How America is Blindly Deporting Its Competitive Advantage

Matt Wright explains how, in Trump’s America, the true American pastime of innovation has become a gimmick, instead of being understood for the agent for change that it is.

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In Trump’s America, the true American pastime of innovation has become a gimmick, a fad, something intangible that the country only understands as national GDP, the smartphone they hold in their hand, and never the agent for change that it is.

While traveling around the world working with diverse tech and startup ecosystems, I experience a world inspired by innovation. From Santiago to Beijing, governments are investing in startups, throwing all their resources at technology, and working with universities to make sure their students are prepared for the future.

It’s clear that startup culture and technology will lead and influence the work of the future. No matter how you wish the world was, we are entering a new era that won’t mix well with isolationist mentalities. A world where entire government entities like Chile’s CORFO are inviting startup companies from around the world to help them build their own economy, where Tel Aviv is pumping out highly competitive entrepreneurs, and where Beijing is acquiring US companies like UBER China.

If we really want to fix our problems in the United States, we need to incentivize the best talent around the world to work with us, before building them a path to citizenship, and continuing to educate our young people for work of the future.

With the recent discussions around H1B visas, all of this is on the chopping block. America is losing because we are scared of our own competitive advantage: the American dream.

America is missing the boat

The American dream looks a lot different than it used to. The few and brave we idolized for striving to build a better future are now represented by people who build startups and new technologies that shape our world.

Young kids around the globe are looking up to Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs, learning how to code, watching YouTube videos of Steve Jobs and his inspiring speeches, and building their own startup companies to tackle local issues in their corner of the world.

Our competitive advantage, or our secret sauce, has always been our ability to attract these men and women who are eager to build the world around us. We should be looking for ways to foster the future Apple, Yahoo, Tesla, or Google founders – who, incidentally are all first and second generation immigrants – on US soil.

World-class engineers, researchers, and entrepreneurs from Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and so on, could be helping us build the future with skills we simply can’t breed stateside in an ever globalizing world. Instead, we’re slowly letting other countries take the lead.

Technology in the US has created a billion dollar industry directly resulting in 7% of the national GDP, and an indirectly motivated global sensation larger than Elvis. Our competitive advantage has always been how we recruit the best and the brightest around the world, and the amount of work we can do with that.

“The future doesn’t belong to the lighthearted; it belongs to the brave.” – Ronald Reagan

The problem is that the world is learning that they don’t need us to build great technology companies anymore. We created the template for them, and now that our competitive advantage is being shipped off, it’s only a matter of time before foreign ecosystems begin to lead the world in this sector.

Silicon Valley will never fall, but it is a bubble that requires a pipeline of fresh, and diverse talent to prevent the ideas from stagnating. Meanwhile, countries like China are opening their doors for foreign trade and investment, cornering billion dollar markets, and looking to globalization as an opportunity to scale their reach.

The world can build what we build; it’s being done everywhere. What is hard for other countries to duplicate, however, is our ability to attract talent, produce talent, and push the ball forward. With some of the world’s top universities, and highest access to venture capital, it should be an easy sell. We should be at the airport waiting with a sign welcoming those who made a leap of faith to make it to the land of opportunity, because it still is exactly that.

If we want to stay competitive with the rest of the world in this exciting new era, we need to invest in young entrepreneurs and technologists, invite the best and brightest from around the world, and quit making it so complicated.

Innovation is not slowing down for you

Nope, not at all! The world will continue to become more complex, jobs of the future will create new demands, and creative destruction is already displacing workers. But, there’s hope!

If the country wants to win, the strategy should not be to push ourselves into a corner. We should instead be incentivizing the best talent to work with us, or other countries will. Governments around the world in Santiago, Tel Aviv, Stockholm, Seoul, and Beijing are already doing this.

For example, in Santiago, Chile, CORFO, a government agency geared toward economic development, has opened a handful of programs, one being Startup Chile, that accepts 200+ startups every fiscal quarter from different parts of the world, hands them a work visa, hosts them, and offers thousands of dollars of investment without taking a single percentage of equity. This model has created jobs in country, educated the community in new skillsets, and dramatically increased the amount of companies incorporated in Chile.

In Tel Aviv around 2,000 – 4,000 startups are restructuring a new economy, and the government has taken that very seriously. Over many years, this has produced companies such as Waze that was acquired by Google for $966 million, and Wix going public for $601 million.

Oh, and China. They are definitely not slowing down. The government is investing heavily in startups, $330 billion to be exact, while companies like Tencent (WeChat), Alibaba (Alipay),  Baidu, and Didi Chuxing (invested in by all three) continue to scale, waiting for their chance to go international. China planned for the present, and is already giving the western world a run for its money.

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What am I trying to say here? We’re not special. To stay competitive, we need to educate our youth, invest in future jobs, and work alongside the best talent around the world, while giving them incentive to rebuild the American dream. You can’t do that while looking backwards.

Are you trying to stand up for this H1B Visa thing?

In recent news, the H1B visa has been taking some heat. It’s an outdated program that both sides of the aisle have issues with. This might surprise you because Silicon Valley seems to take the side of the visa, but it needs to be replaced.

Alongside the H1B there are a handful of additional visas for foreign talent coming to the US (EB-1,EB-2, EB-5, E-2, L-1) but the H1B visa is on the chopping block. The main issue? Silicon Valley, or more specifically, giant tech firms in the United States as a whole, and talent outsourcing firms are abusing the system to suppress salaries for engineers, researchers, and other STEM fields. While speaking with an expert in the field of immigration and the tech industry, Vivek Wadhwa, I was given a bit more insight,

“Talent from all around the world are getting employed in the [Silicon] Valley and are wasting the best years of their lives at these large companies,” he said. “They’re tied to the companies, and can’t search for other work. They can’t start their own companies, and get paid very little.”

The issue is that it takes months for someone to apply for an H1B visa, and once they receive it, they are stuck with the company that decides to sponsor them. That seems great, but these highly talented engineers, software developers, etc, are being paid well below the industry standard, and artificially suppressing the entire economy.

This pisses off a lot of Americans because it takes away jobs, and allows outside firms such as “body shops” to take advantage of a bent system.

“So, what’s the solution?” asks Wadhwa.”Give them f***ing green cards!”

But, what about American jobs?

In only a few years, the world is going to work very differently and there is nothing we can do about it.

Just this year, Goldman Sachs showed the internet that 9,000 of their employees (one-third of their staff) are software developers, and even notable investors like Mark Cuban have been warning Americans that this future of automation is already here.

This is an entirely different conversation, but in terms of American jobs, we need to look at what’s next – not at what can be done by a robot or outsourced. We need to be thinking about investing in new industries that require human intuition (and can’t be automated). We shouldn’t be fighting for jobs that can be done by a robot in ten years or less.

If we want to win, we need to invest in the next generation of thinkers, innovators, and entrepreneurs. This needs to be through education, job training, and by creating a frictionless pathway for talented individuals from around the world to start a technology company in the United States to create jobs and boost the economy.

We need all the help we can get right now, and shouldn’t be nitpicking public policy such as the H1B program. I think we all agree that we want jobs – so let’s create them.

When looking toward the future of the US economy, we need to constantly remind ourselves what makes us unique, what gives us an edge – and that is our historic ability to attract the best and the brightest.

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