Published in UT San Diego on June 16, 2014
No man is an island, and no city is immune from the government policies set in Washington, D.C., on immigration, federal research funding and corporate taxation. And these key factors play a huge role in determining the future of the San Diego innovation economy.
I attended the recent symposium Innovation Crossroads: Creating a Policy Climate for Global Innovation in San Diego, where the consensus of the participants was that notwithstanding a bit of sunshine at the beach, darker clouds are looming.
The three panelists knew what they’re talking about. In one room, we had two of our region’s leading executives — Paul Jacobs, executive chairman of Qualcomm, and Gregory Lucier, formerly chairman and CEO of Life Technologies and now chairman of the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute — along with Rep. Scott Peters, who represents California’s 52nd District. The panel was moderated by Steve Clemons, Washington editor at large for The Atlantic and National Journal.
Here are their thoughts on key issues.
Immigration: Jacobs and Lucier sharply criticized U.S. immigration policy. The U.S. attracts the best and the brightest from all over the world to study, and then we make it hard for them to stay — a shortsighted policy that is another topic we’ve written about. It was depressing to hear Peters say he believes that a bipartisan immigration reform bill could pass but that Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has so far refused to bring it to a vote.
“It’s not just the students. Sometimes the CEO of a company that we’re working with in China can’t get a visa to come to a conference or visit a facility here,” said Jacobs.
Corporate taxation policies: Billions of dollars of corporate profits are sitting offshore because of U.S. tax rates if the money is repatriated, and the panelists said these policies merely encourage companies to invest offshore. Jacobs called it “the perfect storm of really stupid policies,” and Lucier said that this money could cause an “uptick” to the U.S. economy.
Federal research funding: Peters, D-San Diego, recounted voting against a bill that would have reduced federal funding for basic research, and he expressed concern that the respected peer review system may be under attack by members of Congress who want more direct control. UC San Diego and local research institutes receive several hundred million dollars a year in funding, and this money has truly been the foundation of our life sciences industry.
There was some good news — the San Diego “quality of life” helps us attract talent from all over the world. The enormous potential for the region to be a leader in the emerging field of mobile health and our location next to Mexico offer many companies a less-expensive and convenient place to manufacture.
Yet, the high price of housing and traffic congestion loom as local detriments, and the panelists were concerned that not enough young people across the country are seeking careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) — a subject that we’ve written about before, too.
In particular, Jacobs expressed frustration with freeway access near Qualcomm’s many buildings in San Diego’s Sorrento Valley area, causing employees to leave work earlier and resulting in a loss of productivity. What was interesting was that no one discussed the role of public transportation. Is it realistic to think that we could ever have a transit system that would lure more San Diegans out of their cars?
While outside forces play an important role in influencing the future of our innovation economy, there is still a lot that is under our own control. We can ensure that we maintain our beaches and parks, create more transportation options, and take steps to provide more affordable housing. We can lament with one voice and still speak bravely with another, controlling our own destiny as much as possible.
And finally, we love what Jacobs said at the end. He applauded the San Diego entrepreneurs who are doing fundamental science that can solve real problems, in contrast with Silicon Valley, which is focused on apps “and things that aren’t deep,” he said.
Rule No. 356
“The Hard Thing about Hard Things” (to quote Ben Horowitz’s new book) is that they are hard.