This is the first of two interviews with Gary Shapiro, the president of the Consumer Electronic Show. Shapiro is also the author of the best selling “The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream.” Matt Scherer, our San Antonio correspondent, has been in touch with Gary, who is delivering the conference keynote Thursday at InnoTech new’s locale, the Henry B. Gonzales Center.
Scherer: Technology innovation is something that President Obama is addressing during his first term in office. If you had an unfiltered access to his executive cabinet, what advice would you give him on the topic of innovation?
Shapiro: Simple: Stop pursuing anti-business policies. Business is not the enemy. In fact, it is business – not government – that creates jobs. The administration embraces an anti-business, pro-union view of the world. From the National Labor Relations Board suing Boeing for opening a plant in South Carolina to the regulatory nightmare that is the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, Obama and his advisors have preferred policies that strangle business. The Solyndra debacle is just a symptom of a mindset that says innovation is something that only needs direct government funding. While investing in basic research is valuable, choosing winners and losers invites cronyism and hurts every other competitor. The best thing that the president and our politicians can do for innovation is simply get out of the way and let America’s innovators do what they do best.
Scherer: If you could change our U.S. immigration policy, how would you change it?
Shapiro: I’ll borrow a phrase Gov. Mitt Romney used when he recently spoke at a CEA function. When a foreign student earns a higher degree at an American institution, Romney said, “Staple a green card to it.” And this is one area where we find bipartisan support. In his 2012 State of the Union Address, President Obama recognized that as soon as foreign students get their degrees, “we send them home to invent new products and create new jobs somewhere else.” So if the incumbent president and his likely challenger agree, why hasn’t anything been done? One of America’s competitive advantages is our ability to attract the best and brightest to our top-notch universities where we provide them with even more education. Yet we’re failing miserably in maintaining this advantage. Those bright people won’t wait forever, and other countries are exploiting America’s failure. Many of our most successful companies – Google, Yahoo, Intel, etc. – were started by immigrants, and we need to embrace that opportunity for American business going forward.
Scherer: What innovative processes do you see America developing in the marketplace? How can our public and private schools address this?
Shapiro: On the subject of education, we need to be better at teaching American students the rudimentary language of innovation: Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). The U.S. trails much of the rest of the developed world in producing students with a firm grasp of the STEM subjects, and it shows. The respected Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), which is given to 15-year-olds around the world, found that U.S. students place 23rd and 30th in math and science, respectively. At the higher education level, we also need to move beyond the notion that the best college degree for everyone is a four-year degree from a major college or university. This ignores the ways in which more focused two-year colleges are training students for the jobs of tomorrow. In other words, we need to get beyond long-held assumptions of college education and start thinking creatively about ways to not only boost American students’ STEM knowledge but also to prepare them for the jobs of a 21st century technology economy.