GBC’s Fry: Reinforcing America’s competitive foundation

Don Fry Commentary on WYPR

Philip Adams, former chairman of the Australian Film Commission once said: “A country that makes a film like ‘Star Wars’ deserves to rule the world.” While some might say that ruling the world is a bit much, there is a general consensus, at least in this country, that we should be the most competitive.

But now there are cracks in the United States’ competitive foundation, slippage in the gears. In 2004 the United States ranked sixth in economic competitiveness behind Switzerland, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and Singapore. That’s according to the World Economic Forum, which ranks countries on how conducive their business climates are to sustaining economic growth. The Forum cited our budget and trade deficits, although it acknowledged that the “U.S. remains the global engine of technology.”

Technology – math and science – is the key to global competitiveness. We need to make the necessary investments to keep our competitive lead in this field. Right now, United States colleges turn out 60,000 engineers a year … to India’s 360,000. U.S. eighth-graders rank 12th in science and math skills behind countries like Cyprus and Latvia. And although one-third of U.S. jobs require science or technology competency, only 17 percent of U.S. college students graduate with science or technology majors.

In the Baltimore region — where the Greater Baltimore Committee, civic partners and elected leaders see bioscience and technology industries as key catalysts for our future economic growth – it’s particularly important that we address the challenge of cultivating a smart, highly-skilled workforce. The influx of high-tech, jobs to the Baltimore-Washington due to federal Base Realignment and Closure activities also ups the ante to produce and attract people adept at science, technology, and innovation.

Both locally and nationally, we must fuel innovation by reaffirming our belief in the transformative power of knowledge by aggressively funding research, development and education. Business leaders must support such a national re-commitment to cultivating math and science knowledge for this country to lead the world in competitiveness again.

Maybe we can’t rule, but we can lead.

For the Regional Business Report, this is Don Fry, President & CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee, for 88.1 WYPR, your NPR news station.

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