The Deficit Commission like President Obama lacks the one critical attribute guaranteed to get this country out of the current economic depression and that attribute is VISION. Since I am older than dirt, I have been able to look back on those programs that really worked in America’s past. For the President and those around him, free of charge, here are my two suggestions.
(1) Expedite the patent process by SUBSTANTIALLY INCREASING the number of EXAMINERS and digital processing of patent applications in the U.S. Patent office. Before Obama took office it took two years on average to just get to the “patent applied” stage of a routine patent application. To its credit, the Obama administration has recently increased the number of examiners in an effort to reduce this backlog, but in consideration of the current hard economic times this increase is still woefully insufficient. America was built on CREATIVE INNOVATION, and as a nation its fortunes are still dependent upon CREATIVE INNOVATION. The only things that will get the American economy moving again are good solid patents supported by a widely available supply of venture capital. We have an advantage over India and China when it comes to technical innovation due to the nature and character of AMERICAN SOCIETY. Indian and Chinese culture is drastically different than American society and this is the inhibitor which dramatically dulls their educational edge over creative Americans. We create modern technology and they study it. They can overtake the U.S. in technological innovation but only at the rate that their society evolves to naturally emulate the character of modern American society.
(2) American high tech manufacturers claim that the best engineers are located in India and China. Meanwhile they complain that there are not enough engineers available in the U.S. This is pure double speak. What they are NOT saying is that the reason that they shipped the engineering jobs overseas because the cost for an engineer in India or China is a fraction of the salary that they would have to pay an American engineer (when benefits are considered along with nominal salaries). So where is the incentive for American students to choose engineering as a major when the majority of engineering jobs are already located overseas? Greedy American high tech CEOs continue to publish this canard that American college students are no longer interested in engineering, hence they are forced to look for engineering talent overseas in other populations. This situation may be liken to the one where the fox, who has been put in charge of the hen house, scratches his head and wonders aloud. “Why is it that the number of chickens in the hen house keeps going down?”
The most successful engineering generating programs that I have had the opportunity to observe first hand is the CO-OP PROGRAM pioneered at North Eastern University in Boston. Undergraduate students enrolled in the CO-OP program were allowed to periodically work full time in the industry of their major. This program was conducted with the strong backing of virtually all of the corporations in the area, and was a win-win situation for both the student who had an opportunity to gain real world experience on the job, and the company picked up a solid engineer in training who in many cases joined the company after graduation. The CO-OP program also significant reduced the financial burden on the student and his/her family. Finally North Eastern credited the student for his/her time for the weeks spent working on the job in industry. Finally, I should point out that one of the better known successful students to come out of the CO-OP program was Dick Eagan, one of the co-founders of EMC Corporation. Several years before his death Dick Eagan gave North Eastern hundreds of millions of dollars as a tribute to the University and to support the Maureen & Richard J. Egan Engineering Science Research center.
In summary, I propose a two pronged attack on the economic problems of America, specifically in regards to our ability to create and manufacture products for the world. The first is to release the patent log jam. This coupled with the freeing up of venture capital will energize the “start-up” new technology businesses across America. A significant increase in the number of these new “start-up” manufacturers will immediately start to put downward pressure on the unemployment rolls across America. You need engineers to develop new products but you need a lot of people to take the product out of the lab and into manufacturing.
In regards to American engineers, I am not interested in creating more high tech engineers just to occupy more cubicles at Honeywell or at IBM or at Raytheon. I am interested in providing more engineers to CREATE more START-UP new product business ventures, period. The responsibility for creating new American engineers is on the shoulders of America’s colleges and universities, and it is my proposal that bold initiatives for a CO-OP program enacted between the school and the business community will greatly expedite the creation and of a new generation of highly productive American engineers. Undergraduate science labs operating in such an environment could become instant incubators for new revolutionary technological developments. What I have proposed here can be easily accomplished without the support of Washington and in the tough grinding atmosphere of Congressional gridlock. Again all that is required is for local colleges and universities to seize the CO-OP vision and initiative. An aggressive concerted push of this idea by students and school faculty is bound to be successful in securing aggressive support from the local business community. I say now is the time to stop looking to Washington for leadership. Now is the time to role up our sleeves and get started building the America of tomorrow.