Sunday, February 20, 2011

How green was my Valley!

As the president of TIE Carolinas, an entrepreneurial non-profit, I engage with business men and women from across the world. A trend is clear and omniscient - the world at large, specifically Asia and Africa, have a populace that is aspirationaly committed to improving their lot... from the mother living in the Mumbai ghetto whose girls are working as data entry clerks to the Asian billionaires building the 21st century multi-nationals. I do not find it true of business men and women in the USA, where I have found the entrepreneur unable to "dream" for the past three years... dreams, which are essential to risk taking. Are things improving... they will and can though in a new paradigm yet to emerge.

Thanks to Financial Times for an excellent analysis of the reality of technology driven leadership and entrepreneurism in the the USA... Mr. Richard Waters writes in "A dip in the valley" - "Early stage investors appear to be losing interest in the painstaking work needed to sustain America's lead in the advanced industries that can generate many future jobs."

An example showcasing a macro trend in full swing (though it impacts micro economics as well) is: "When Massachusetts came up with $58m of incentives in 2008 to encourage Evergreen Solar to build a plant, it looked like the US state had found a new lease of life for a disused military base. Until last week, that is. Evergreen is shutting the facility with the loss of 800 jobs. The future location of Evergreen’s wafer making: a plant in Wuhan, China."

[Click to enlarge the graphic in the right.]

Again I am reminded of Gordon Moore's (Intel co-founder) lament that chasing returns has left a gap in invention in the USA. More strongly worded though is: "The belief that American individuality and creativity somehow assure future leadership is “a clear exposition of the arrogance of empire”, warns Michael Moritz, one of the Valley’s leading start-up financiers. Freed of “the debilitating effects of affluence”, he adds, “the need to succeed is far greater in the emerging economies”."

The article discusses US's inability to turn out enough engineers, decreasing share of its world R&D spending, sense of decline in the US, some of the existing invention's business being lost to Asia (ex: LED), etc. The article documents Mr. Moritz statement,"A company that loses its ability to develop its own manufacturing is on the road to oblivion."

And of course, such a conversation cannot end without evaluating current and desired policy - One area being talent, growing it, acquiring it and maintaining it: "Sophie Vandebroek, a Belgian engineer who moved to the US in the mid-1980s to train, says that at the time it was “the place to be – this was where the hot research was happening”. Ms Vandebroek stayed and eventually became chief technology officer at Xerox – in spite of the low status accorded to engineers in the US: “It’s kind of at the bottom of the professions.” Now, she and others warn, US immigration rules that make it harder for foreign students to stay, along with the availability of good jobs at home, are causing the country to leach much-needed foreign workers."

The second, the conduction of business: "If it is not to become left behind in businesses such as [solar, energy storage, green tech], the industry’s leaders say, it is time for a policy rethink. “Simply put, the US needs to decide it is ‘open for business’ and willing to compete in the global marketplace for factories and jobs,” says Paul Otellini, chief executive of Intel. “Costs are higher here, not driven by labour rates but rather by lack of incentives or tax credits that are available to US corporations in most other countries.” Without education reform, there will be a “critical engineering skills gap [that] will ultimately translate into fewer jobs and inventions in this country”."

The article concludes with the Valley still has a spark, "But for the country at large, it would not pay to take that much for granted."

See the complete article here.

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