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Two Common Sense Ways to Improve the Economy

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It's estimated that over 500,000 jobs have been lost in two of our most important industries, due to reasons that have nothing to do with our current economy.

Entertainment and tourism are two of the most promising areas for job creation in the United States as a whole and in Southern California in particular. They are both vital to the country's economic well-being, not only for the jobs they create, but the spending they generate and the taxes they pay.

What's more, the entertainment industry is one of our most successful exporters and makes a very significant and positive contribution to the nation's trade balance.

While visitation to the U.S. doesn't feel like an export business, in essence, it is. We export the promise our destinations offer as brands, or a means of encouraging people to come to our country, whether they wish to visit Disneyland, see our nation's capital, or attend one of our universities.

At President Obama's jobs summit last week, which gathered together business, labor and political leaders, I discussed measures that could help sustain and increase employment growth in these critical industries. These measures don't rely on increased government spending, additional legislation or regulation, just some common sense steps.

The first is better protection of intellectual property. As consumers increasingly enjoy their entertainment over the Internet, it's absolutely critical that content creators -- be they big companies or individual artists uploading their own works -- are better protected from piracy.

Two years ago, many of the world's leading Internet and media companies got together to create a set of guidelines built around the use of filtering technology to reduce the flow of pirated content on user generated content sites. This effort was designed to foster an environment where more content could be brought to more consumers through legitimate channels. This voluntary approach has shown promising results.

But there are many who use the Internet to profit from pirated content and who have no interest in voluntary solutions that would put an end to their commercial exploitation of the creative output of others. For that reason, there is a role that government must play to stop piracy on those platforms and services unwilling to police themselves. The confirmation last week by the Senate of Victoria Espinel as the nation's first Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator is a great step. But it's critical she be given the necessary resources to get the job done.

The stakes are high in the U.S., and particularly here in Southern California. Millions of Americans create, market and distribute content for a living. If we don't address the piracy threat with vigor, cohesiveness and immediacy, we can't create new jobs. In fact, we'll lose even more.

In addition to making our case for improved intellectual property protection, I also suggested a couple of things to help the U.S. travel industry -- again, a big employer in our region and one with potentially promising long-term prospects. Since 2001, foreign visitor arrivals have dropped off substantially. That's due both to the fact that the very process of visiting the U.S. makes many overseas visitors feel unwelcome by the time they get here and because competition from foreign travel destinations has, in the meantime, increased significantly.

We can fix that by implementing a secure, but user-friendly, visa process that maintains our security but is more efficient and easier to navigate. Second, we need to do a better job of welcoming visitors at our airports and ports. Third, we need to tell the world about improvements we've made to the entry process, to invite international travelers to visit us, and to make them feel welcome here. Such outreach could be funded through a small fee collected from overseas visitors, combined with matching funds from the travel industry, costing taxpayers nothing.

The decline in foreign visitors, according to the U.S. Travel Association, has probably cost the country around 245,000 jobs. The Motion Picture Association of America reckons that piracy has cost another 375,000. Together, those are big numbers in industries where we should have a big long term advantage over our competitors and which are critical to the economic health both of Southern California and the U.S. economy as a whole.

President Obama's jobs summits touched on a wide variety of approaches, from rebuilding America's infrastructure to measures designed to spur exports and to help small businesses. Many would require legislative action and in many cases, increased federal spending.

So when you hear about "stealing intellectual property," a term that may have little meaning to you, think about it as a means of contributing to unemployment and harming our economy.

And when you think about America as a place that's easy to visit, with a thriving tourism business and a welcome mat out for millions of people, think about how we could attract even more visitors and how many more jobs that would create or support.

Curbing piracy and making it easier to visit our country are straightforward and immediate ways to spur long-term job growth. They will help us maintain our national competitiveness. And they do so at no significant cost to the taxpayer.