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Tech Leaders to Obama & Congress: Innovation Plans Key to U.S. Job Creation

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This week dozens of executives from top technology companies and VC funds trekked to D.C. from around the country to deliver a plea to President Obama, Administration cabinet officials and our elected leaders on both sides of the aisle.

Topping our TechNet wish list are improvements in the nation's education system and stronger support for our human capital; fostering a globally competitive business climate; and driving investment for clean technology and 21st century energy solutions.

Besides this wish list, the tech leaders ranging from Oracle, Cisco, Solazyme, Bloom Energy and others also delivered something loved by all D.C. denizens...new polling data of likely U.S. voters.

Key findings from our new Zogby survey* found an American public that understands technology is central to our future growth. The results also show that voters understand that our lead in technology will wither unless we provide the proper ingredients.

Highlights from the survey provide good insight into Americans' views on our future competitiveness:

U.S. voters believe our students are not competitive. Fully 78% of likely voters surveyed agreed that America's schools are failing to adequately prepare our children for the high-skilled jobs of the future. Thus, we need to do everything we can to better train our kids.

Americans strongly support high skilled legal immigration. Roughly two-thirds of likely voters (66%) believe that it's acceptable to bring in highly-skilled individuals from other nations through the nation's legal immigration process if an American is not available to fill jobs that require high-level engineering or science skills. One-fifth (20%) think that the job should be left open indefinitely. This is good news as Duke University research shows that one-quarter of U.S. tech companies were founded by foreigners. In Silicon Valley, it's 52% of startups founded or co-founded by people born outside our borders so we must not close our borders to innovation as very smart people will create these companies (and jobs) elsewhere if we're not careful.

Broadband is essential. An overwhelming number of respondents (91%) believe that broadband access is somewhat or very important in their lives. Additionally, 43% would be more likely to vote for their member of Congress if they supported investing in broadband improvements (27% were less likely). The power of broadband was brought to life for us by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski about how telemedicine enabled broadband can successfully treat a rare eye disease causing blindness in newborn children. Because of broadband, doctors can do remote diagnostics and don't have to send handwritten drawings by fax of babies' eyes miles away as a course of treatment. With broadband enable telemedicine, those treatments can be diagnosed remotely and treated fast locally.

The tech sector and clean tech can create jobs. When asked what industries have the most potential to create good-paying, long-term jobs, the technology sector (28%) and green energy (28%) tied for top billing. Manufacturing was the third highest response with 18%.

Americans would pay a bit more for clean technologies. 62% of likely voters would support short-term, small increases in their monthly energy bill if it would lead to new innovations that would ultimately lower their bills, reduce reliance on imported fossil fuels and create more high-paying jobs in the U.S. One-fifth (21%) of Americans would be less likely to support such an increase.

Foreign competitors may lead innovation if we're not careful. The majority (58%) of likely voters believe a foreign country will drive the most technological innovation in the next decade. Only 33% of those polled think the U.S. will drive the most innovation in this period. To us, this number just reflects the fact that we need to re-double our efforts for the U.S. to have a strong innovation plan. The Chinese act on 5 year innovation plans - and so should America.

On one hand, the data shows that Americans have real concerns about our ability to innovate and grow. But overall, it shows that the Obama administration and Congress will have plenty of support on improving education and technology as keys to our nation's economic success.

TechNet's executives understand that having access to highly educated talent is one critical component for future growth. Fortunately, there is increasingly a desire in Washington to improve student's facilities and update our nation's visa laws. These fixes combined with intelligent investments in broadband, clean tech and R&D will all contribute to a stronger environment of success and innovation in America.

* Methodology: The Zogby-463 survey of 4,143 likely U.S. voters was conducted from March 12-15 with a margin of error of +/- 1.6 percentage points.

Rey Ramsey is the President and CEO of TechNet, a national, bipartisan network of CEOs that promotes the growth of technology industries and the economy by building long-term relationships between technology leaders and policymakers and by advocating a targeted policy agenda. TechNet has offices in Washington, DC, Palo Alto, Sacramento, Seattle, Boston and Austin. Web address: www.technet.org.