Innovative companies key to future

By Mary Walshok

UCSD associate vice chancellor for public programs and dean of Extension

A good job and a comfortable lifestyle have been the dream of successive waves of immigrants and migrants. America’s history is about the promise of achieving this dream. Is it time to write an obituary for this dream or can it still be realized?

The red-hot issue of the 2010 political campaigns will be the nationwide call for an economy with good jobs for all. The hidden issue is America’s job gap, the disparity between the good jobs being created by innovation in the U.S. and the lack of American workers with the skills to fill these good jobs. Our American work force is out of alignment with technological advances because the U.S. does not continuously retrain as Europe and Asia do.

America is losing its way because it thinks that the future of its economy is going to be in big companies and in finding the next General Motors. Where the real opportunities are coming from are small innovative companies. San Diego witnessed this organic phenomenon with the growth of both wireless IT and the life sciences clusters that sprang up adjacent to UCSD. Our region continues to grow innovative clusters and retrain workers in new and converging technologies such as clean technology, health care IT and biofuels.

To close America’s job gap, we need to create and keep good jobs in America by supporting innovative small companies and retraining people to be qualified for new technologies. The time has come to sync training with innovation to get ahead of the curve. Machinists who once worked in auto plants need to be reskilled for wind energy. Medical workers skilled in high touch need to operate high-tech devices so health care can go digital. As countless jobs go green, all Americans need to learn how to run a planet-sustaining economy.

We need to support innovative small companies that create good jobs and we need to retrain our workers to be qualified in new skills so we don’t have to export jobs or import labor. The American dream of good jobs for all depends on it.