Please Pass on the Ambassadorial Pat Downs: Welcoming the World to America’s 21st Century Dinner

This post in in response to ‘Chinese and Indian Entrepreneurs are Eating America’s Lunch’ by Vivek Wadhwa – which warns of the growing numbers of Indian and Chinese entrepreneurs.

It is definitely past due time for the American public, policymakers, educators – and entrepreneurs – to notice that the start-up phenomenon has spread to Asian markets, and specifically India and China. This entrepreneurial phenomenon has been gathering steam for a decade, assisted in a major way by Silicon Valley’s major venture capital firms, most of whom set up shops in India, years ago. Similarly, U.S. VCs have been nurturing Chinese entrepreneurial firms for years as well. Why? Because….that’s where much of the action is, obviously, and already has been the scene of substantial wealth creation.  The number of billionaires in China was – zero – just 2 decades ago. Now, the nation is second only to the U.S.  Further, it is not just U.S. VCs and and U.S.-trained entrepreneurs that are helping fuel this phenomenon – so is Wall Street. The hottest markets of late for IPOs on the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ are for Indian and Chinese companies, many gaining listings through ‘reverse mergers’ i.e. takeovers of listed but typically weak U.S. companies.  

For the U.S. economy, and certainly for Wall Street and Silicon Valley VCs then, the trend toward higher growth in 2 nations, India and China, with close to half the world’s population has been something to be welcomed, as a source of profit, as newly minted Asian entrepreneurs create wealth for themselves, their nations – and for Wall Street financial firms, lawyers, advisors, etc., and of course also for their West Coast VC brethren. And the fact is many millions have been lifted from poverty in India and China in the past decade alone, something we should all welcome.

For U.S. entrepreneurs as competitors to those same Asian-based entrepreneurs, there is also good news: while commodity products are outsourced to, perhaps, those Asian entrepreneurs, much of the value-added design still is done in the USA.  Indian and Chinese entrepreneurs still are held back by bureaucratic and governmental inefficiencies. But of course the U.S. has created its own obstacles to growth.

For example, the U.S. essentially is encouraging many well-trained students and young entrepreneurs – to leave. Instead, they could be creating wealth – and jobs – in the U.S.  The post-9-11 paranoia and hostility towards foreigners felt by many visitors including students in the U.S., is perhaps understandable, but its negative impact on U.S. economic growth is rarely commented upon. Frankly, the U.S. can’t afford it, if it wishes to have a prosperous dinner for all Americans in the 21st Century. Of course, most major multinationals now have not only factory employees in China, but also R&D centers which are increasingly central to their product development efforts, whether for Chinese and Indian domestic or world markets. So, the ‘innovation advantage’ of the U.S. is under threat not only from hard-working Asian entrepreneurs, but also from – our own multinational firms. U.S. tax policies which may disadvantage domestic production is however a topic for another day.

But rather than worry about lunch, we should be looking ahead to what’s for dinner.  

Syracuse University and its iSchool (School of Information Studies) are preparing domestic and international students to flourish, whether they choose to do so in the U.S., China, India, or elsewhere in the world economy. For many, the odds are that their careers will require them to adapt and move with the times and opportunities. For many students, including those from India and China, they would prefer staying in the U.S. and -essentially – helping grow our economy, if suitable opportunities are found and government obstacles to those opportunities are not insurmountable. We at Syracuse are leading a cultural shift within academia,  part of Chancellor Nancy Cantor’s call for ‘Scholarship in Action’, to among other things encourage student entrepreneurs and innovators to try their luck – wherever they are.  Some may become social entrepreneurs, others will work and learn inside larger firms before going out on their own, at later stage. Which is all good for the U.S. economy, as long as innovators and entrepreneurs, whether U.S.-born or recent immigrants, feel they have a reasonable chance to succeed – from a U.S. base.  The need for a well-educated workforce, prepared to succeed in a global economy, has never been greater; and U.S. higher education, with all its shortcomings, remains a key ingredient – or shall we say, an essential item on the menu – for America’s 21st Century Dinner.

One key long-term issue therefore for the U.S. policymakers and the public alike then is – to get out of the way and reduce the perceived hostility many immigrants and visitors feel when entering the United States. They are our guests, coming to and contributing to our future our collective dinner, possibly building companies which will employ hundreds and thousands of fellow U.S. citizens and residents and we must make them feel as welcomed as immigrants (generally) were in the past.

Rather than patting down the Indian Ambassador, as recently happened at a U.S. airport checkpoint, the TSA should have welcomed the Ambassador, even if only to an airport dinner, as an honored guest. Young Indian and Chinese students, as partners in U.S. and Indian and Chinese (future) prosperity, should also be treated as honored guests. Similarly, international students from South America, Africa, Europe – and gasp, even the Middle East – are our guests. Of course reasonable measures, including perhaps an occasional pat-down, must be taken to maintain America’s security, and our guests will accept that. But measures which undercut our future prosperity – and hence lead to a more meager future dinner menu for all Americans – do not serve that purpose.  U.S. universities must continue to provide the best graduate and undergraduate experience in the world. This will then continue to fuel U.S. industry and new venture creation to serve U.S and world markets – assuming domestic politics does not distract from the vital point made by Vivek, that there are increasing numbers of well-trained entrepreneurs also dreaming of doing great things, all around the world. Let them come to dinner and be America’s business partners as well.

For the U.S. to continue to flourish in the 21st Century, the U.S. federal government’s macroeconomic policies must stabilize its finances, and help all Americans get back to work or create their own jobs in their own companies, in what is indeed an increasingly competitive global economy. U.S. universities such as Syracuse can do their part by fostering creativity, innovation and entrepreneurial thinking, whether in undergraduate or graduate or executive education students, wherever they are from, to help set the table for the United States – and the world – to have a tasty 21st Century dinner, including ingredients from India, and China.  That is the best recipe. And please do pass on the Ambassadorial pat-downs.

Lee W.McKnight is an Associate Professor in The School of Information Studies, Syracuse University; and founder and member of the Board of Directors of Wireless Grids Corporation.