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Current Affairs: The Next American Economy by William Holstein Technology Clusters and Ecosystems
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported an unemployment rate of 9.2 percent in June 2011. These numbers remain depressingly consistent every month as millions of Americans struggle to find work.
It is clear that many of the jobs lost over the past several decades and during the Great Recession of 2008 have become extinct. It is said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, yet expecting different results.
Government stimulus packages and extended unemployment benefits are Band-Aids for what William Holstein, author of the new book “The Next American Economy—A Blueprint for a Real Recovery,” identifies as structural challenges in the U.S. economy. Holstein has traveled the United States writing about globalization and economics for major business publications.
How will our country restructure its workforce for the 21st century, and in which industries? Holstein believes that our economic rebirth lies in technology clusters and ecosystems.
The following is a cross-sectional summary of America and how it is reviving itself with technology clusters and ecosystems. There are also lessons for all Americans in what Holstein addresses regarding the nation’s current economic challenges.
Clusters promote knowledge sharing and product innovation. They also champion technical and business processes, providing a thick network of formal and informal relationships across organizations. Clusters happen by accident and are difficult to create.
Orlando’s technology cluster is based on computer simulation and modeling; And it has its origins in the decision of the US military and major defense contractors to locate operations in the Orlando area in the 1950s. Disney’s influence in computer gaming and entertainment is also impressive. Each cluster needs an idea factory, and Orlando has about 140 research and development companies near universities. “Cross-pollination” of ideas is easily propagated. Simulation and modeling are being used in many industries. Healthcare is involved, as it uses virtual reality to help rehabilitate stroke victims.
Pittsburgh is transitioning from a steel city (where the mills don’t exist today) to one dominated by advanced robotics. Building advanced robotics systems is complex and challenging. They perform repetitive tasks in an auto factory, which is simple, closed loop automation. The nascent industry doesn’t have a Google or Apple presence in the city. But, regional universities, engineers and governments are in its collaborative cluster, committed to making the industry flourish and create new jobs.
San Diego is home to more than 600 life science companies and 700 wireless communications companies. In the 1970s, science and medicine rarely came together. Today, the combination of biotech knowledge and enormous computing power helps San Diego dominate medical research and development, including genomics. The opportunity is great for “creative collisions” between university students and professors, business leaders and area governments. San Diego has a high percentage of risk-taking entrepreneurs and venture capital funds, constantly pursuing further technological advancements.
Technology ecosystems are factories of ideas that embody a variety of closely related scientific and academic disciplines. That includes the presence of large, established companies that often invest in start-ups, license their technology, and/or sit on their boards of directors. CEOs mentor less experienced leaders of smaller companies. Government agencies are partners but companies are not solely dependent on them. Angel investors and private sector investors are also important players. There are no guarantees in any ecosystem.
North Carolina has abandoned its furniture, textile, and tobacco industries. Today it is a state whose small and medium-sized companies are committed to exporting, which is critical to economic growth, wealth and job creation. Exporting companies typically pay higher wages and stay in business longer. Holstein says exports are a huge untapped economic potential. America’s export promotion and financing system is fragmented and ineffective. North Carolina is winning, as agencies at the local, state and federal levels are collaborating to promote exports. They inform small business CEOs about trade shows in foreign capitals. They also play matchmaker with potential distributors and customers and help companies translate their sales materials into local languages, among other things.
Atlanta, like many US cities that depend on manufacturing for economic viability, has, over the past decades, relied heavily on offshoring and outsourcing to reduce costs. Today, the city exemplifies companies that are returning to US soil, a trend known as “backshoring.” This is especially true of high technology, telecommunications, and healthcare organizations. Traveling around the world to make product and design changes is both expensive and time-consuming. Shipping costs, complicated logistics, political unrest and the risk of intellectual property theft are also motivators. Atlanta’s ecosystem of regional government, universities and suppliers and logistics experts is among those committed to revitalizing the area’s job market.
Cleveland is one of America’s top 12 community colleges for workforce retraining. Cleveland’s strength is retraining displaced workers in their forties and fifties, a population hit hard by global employment trends. Current and future workers require a higher set of knowledge-based skills to be competitive; And Cleveland delivers. Community colleges in the city treat education less as a profession and more as schooling, allowing the unemployed to quickly transition to new viable careers. Cleveland’s academic community includes local business leaders and government officials. Community colleges can often be more flexible than a four-year education. Funding also flows from federal, state and local governments and private organizations.
Lessons for all Americans
Holstein concluded that America is the center of the global economy and competitive pressures remain. He believes that we are a culture of creativity, innovation and freedom. Our comparative advantage is our ability to disrupt and leapfrog existing technologies. To maximize that advantage, future generations need to acquire math and science-based skills. This is the only way to thrive in a knowledge-based economy. “This is a defining moment for America, similar to the Great Depression, when we had to articulate a new vision of our future,” he says. “I truly believe that we can regain the optimism that many have lost.”
To learn about America’s Next Economy, visit http://www.williamholstein.com.
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