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U.S. Competitiveness: The “Gathering Storm” Part 1

American competitiveness has been on my mind lately.  Last month, The National Academies released a frightening update to the "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" report it issued five years ago.  This iteration, subtitled "Rapidly Approaching Category 5" basically concludes that we weren't listening then, and now the problem is really bad.  Seriously this time, folks. 

Key takeaways and startling factoids from the Gathering Storm report:

The Gathering Storm Committee's overall conclusion is that in spite of the efforts of both those in government and the private sector, the outlook for America to compete for quality jobs has further deteriorated over the past five years.

  • China is now second in the world in its publication of biomedical research articles, having recently surpassed Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, France, Canada and Spain.
  • The United States now ranks 22nd among the world's nations in the density of broadband Internet penetration and 72nd in the density of mobile telephony subscriptions.
  • IBM's once promising PC business is now owned by a Chinese company.
  • The legendary Bell Laboratories is now owned by a French company.
  • Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. (computer manufacturing) employs more people than the worldwide employment of Apple, Dell, Microsoft, Intel and Sony combined.
  • No new nuclear plants and no new petroleum refineries have been built in the United States in a third of a century, a period characterized by intermittent energy-related crises.
  • United States consumers spend significantly more on potato chips than the government devotes to energy R&D.
  • The world's largest airport is now in China.
  • In 2000 the number of foreign students studying the physical sciences and engineering in United States graduate schools for the first time surpassed the number of United States students.
  • GE has now located the majority of its R&D personnel outside the United States.
  • China has now replaced the United States as the world's number one high-technology exporter.
  • Sixty-nine percent of United States' public school students in fifth through eighth grade are taught mathematics by a teacher without a degree or certificate in mathematics.
  • In a survey of global firms planning to build new R&D facilities, 77 percent say they will build in China or India.
  • Since 1995 the United States share of world shipments of photovoltaics has fallen from over 40 percent to well under 10 percent - while the overall market has grown by nearly a factor of one hundred.
  • An American company recently opened the world's largest private solar R&D facility . . . in Xian, China.
  • Japan has 1524 miles of high speed rail; France has 1163; and China just passed 742 miles. The United States has 225. China has 5612 miles now under construction and one plant produces 200 trains each year capable of operating at 217 mph. The United States has none under construction.
  • There are 60 new nuclear power plants currently being built in the world. One of these is in the United States.
  • Almost one-third of U.S. manufacturing companies responding to a recent survey say they are suffering from some level of skills shortages.
  • According to the ACT College Readiness report, 78 percent of high school graduates did not meet the readiness benchmark levels for one or more entry-level college courses in mathematics, science, reading and English.

True, they're just factoids - snapshots in a dynamic world.  But put together, they create a frightening picture for those of us who want to see America retain its competitive edge. 

Retaining (or regaining) our competitive edge means being the go-to place for companies who want to hire highly-qualified workers.  (Which means America must lead in basic and secondary education in math and science.)  It means America must have, at least, fit-for-purpose infrastructure that makes doing business easy.  It means the American government must spend enough money on R&D that the world's most important innovations over the next half-century come from our labs.

Yet it's clear that America is going backwards, not forwards.  Not convinced?  Stay tuned for next week's post to read about the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report which offers hard evidence - beyond bullet-point factoids - of the competitiveness of the U.S.A.

Written on Friday, 12 November 2010 16:28 by Gary Yaquinto

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