Thursday, April 19, 2007

Immigrants as Entrepreneurs: creating jobs, enhancing prosperity

The immigration debate over the last few months has been focused on illegal immigration, the burdens it places on local economies and the plight of illegal immigrants. What has got sidelined is the continued contribution of legal immigrants in creating jobs and enhancing prosperity. Immigrants have been and continue to be the lifeblood of the US economy. By their entrepreneurial zeal and work ethic they have contributed to the unparalleled stature of the US as a colossus in the global economy.

A recent study report (released January 7, 2007) by a team of student researchers in the Master of Engineering Management program of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University led by Executive in Residence/Adjunct Professor Vivek Wadhwa, Research Scholar Ben Rissing, and Sociology Professor Gary Gereffi, has documented the economic and intellectual contributions of immigrant technologists and engineers to US competitiveness -- to understand the sources of US global advantage as well as what the US can do to keep its edge.

A key finding of the study was that there was at least one immigrant key founder in 25.3% of all engineering and technology companies established in the U.S. between 1995 and 2005 inclusive. Together, this pool of immigrant-founded companies was responsible for generating more than $52 billion in 2005 sales and creating just under 450,000 jobs as of 2005. The researchers also estimated, based on an analysis of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) patent databases, that foreign nationals residing in the U.S. were named as inventors or co-inventors in 24.2% of international patent applications filed from the U.S. in 2006. These immigrants come to the U.S. from all over the world to take advantage of the business, technology and economic opportunities in the country.

An interesting finding was that these immigrant-founded businesses are unevenly located across the country. California and New Jersey represented hot spots for immigrant-founded engineering and technology business; Surprisingly, New York despite being the state with the second highest percentage of the population being foreign-born (19.6% vs. 24.9% for California in 2000), only had nearly 25% of its companies established by immigrant key founders (vs. 38.8% for California, 37.6% New Jersey, Michigan 32.8%, even Georgia, Virginia, Massachusetts, Illinois and Arizona fared better). New York (5.2%) also featured third after California (34%) and New Jersey (7.3%) in a breakdown of states where immigrant founded engineering and technology companies are based. California with Silicon Valley appears to be the hotbed of creativity and entrepreneurism. New York has significant catching up to do. Some food for thought for the state's economic policy czars.

I was pleased to learn that immigrants from my country of origin (India) have founded more engineering and technology companies in the US in the past decade (1995-2005) than immigrants from the U.K., China, Taiwan and Japan combined. Of all immigrant-founded companies, 26% have Indian founders. Locally, in Rochester, Indian origin entrepreneurs like IC Shah (ICS Telecom) ,Dilip Vellodi (Sutherland group),Bal Dixit (Fireproof materials) ,Bhoopinder Mehta (Indus Group- hotels and restaurants),Ram Shrivastava( Larson Engineers),Makhan Singh (Restauranteur) have created hundreds of jobs and contributed significantly to the local economy. As they have worked hard to realize their "American Dream", they have enhanced the prosperity of their adopted land.

This research showed that immigrants have become a significant driving force in the creation of new businesses and intellectual property in the U.S. — and that their contributions have increased over the past decade. It also established that the key to maintaining US competitiveness in a global economy is to understand America’s strengths and to effectively leverage these. Skilled immigrants are one of America’s greatest advantages- the US has the unique advantage of having amongst its citizenry people from all parts of the globe. This “integrated diversity” is not yet fully utilized by corporations to its full potential. No other country operating in the global arena has this advantage. You may not find a Fijian or an Icelander in China or India but you would very well do in the US. And that’s a strength which needs to be leveraged.

Let us celebrate the "integrated diversity" of US and the pursuit of the "American Dream". Both of which contribute to the continued growth and prosperity of the US in a global economy.

Link to the Report :

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Are talk show hosts bullies ??

This time around Don Imus has ended with his foot in his mouth. Not the first time and I'm sure would not be the last time other.

Why would anyone in their right mind while commenting on a college basketball match make derogatory racist and sexist remarks about the team ? Is there really an audience for that kind of stuff ? Does it help with ratings ? Does tagging a team with a racial, sexist epithet help in anyway with describing how they are playing or what they have achieved ?

One reason I can think of is that guys like Imus are bullies. They like the feeling of power and control they get from their ability to call people names and get away with it. And like any other bully their pleasure is greater when the other party is weak or is perceived to lack the ability to hit back. I am sure Imus would not have made such remarks about Condi Rice or Al Sharpton or any other powerful people. Hitting out at defenseless 18/19 year olds would have given him his kicks for the day.

My detractors would say that African American rapsters are getting away with using those terms. I agree. Their actions are deplorable too and may have contributed to some of those epithets becoming "mainstream" and being picked up by non-African American commentators. I do hope that African American Leadership would try to end the denigration of women in the current rap culture. Self respect is an essential prerequisite for getting respect from others. And by demeaning a large section of the community (women) they are demeaning the entire community.

However, two wrongs do not make a right. Use of these epithets by rapsters does not in anyway condone their use by the mainstream media. Nobody in their right mind - whether from the majority community or from the minority goes about calling people names. Courtesy and Civility are hallmarks of American social customs and traditions. Public use of these terms is an aberrant behavior which society needs to correct.

Another aspect sure to be raised is about "Freedom of Speech". I respect Imus' right to speak whatever he wants. But am reminded of the age old adage "your freedom ends where my nose begins". Freedom of speech was never intended to be an unbridled right to pillory people. Though Imus might win in a court of law, he is slowly losing ground in the court of public opinion. More importantly he may lose out in the "court of the marketplace" as advertisers pull support from his program. That's what I like about America - Market forces prevail !!!

Monday, April 9, 2007

Of Butterflies and storms....

I remember reading a theory years back about how a butterfly fluttering its wings in Siberia can lead to a storm in the Americas. Had something to do with entropy and probabilities and the like .

Even more so it was all about "unintended consequences" and that's what I wanted to write about today. The idea of piecing disparate sets of news together to make a hypothesis interests me.

Last few days the media here is full of news about the big die-out of the honeybee. A collapsed hive syndrome is what it has been described as. Beekeepers are finding their hives empty and that is leading to billions of dollars in losses for the agricultural sector as farmers and horticulturists try to figure out alternate ways for pollinating their valuable crops.

Another seemingly unrelated news was about the success of experiments to introduce the human insulin producing gene in some food crops. In any case, less bizarre GM ("genetically modified") crops are covering increasingly large swathes of the countryside.

Could the death of the bees and the increase in GM crop acreage be related ? Could something in these crops be interfering with the bee's natural life cycle ?

I am no opponent of GM crops. I think like all other technological advancements they have a role to play in modern society. They may play an important role in alleviating hunger across the globe and may provide a new way of improving health & longevity by delivering cures for diseases. Improving crops through selective breeding has been a human endeavor since prehistorical days and genetic modification is a logical extension of the same.

However, the launch of these products into the food chain should be governed by strong science and not by the lobbying clout of the companies promoting them. Not only the health risks to human but the impact on other species (like our friends the honey bees) and long term environmental impact need to be evaluated. The boll weevil resistant cotton which is so irrigation intensive that it depletes water tables in water starved areas is an example of unintended consequences not being thought through.

From bees to weevils to vultures......... the Indian vulture is becoming extinct. The unintended consequence of a drug given to cattle to get rid of some parasitic worms. The drug gets passed on to the vultures when they eat the dead cattle. It weakens the shells of the vulture eggs which then break before hatching killing the hatchling. Without the vultures to act as scavengers in the countryside, putrefying carrion can contaminate water supplies and cause diseases in humans. Wow, that's an unintended consequence .

Let's be more open about evaluating "unintended consequences". Let the science be out there in the open. Let the government/scientific organizations play their desired roles as referees/regulators rather than just being ticket vendors allowing the highest bidders a seat on the table.

Let the Butterflies flutter without creating any storms.

Sunday, April 8, 2007

Being "Sanjaya"ed .........

Sanjaya Malakar has brought the "Desi" (meaning "Asian Indian") face into the limelight in the USA as never before. Love him or Hate him, fans of American Idol seem to never get enough of him.

What is surprising though is the number of conspiracy theories that have started flying around to explain his continued stay on the show despite his mediocre singing talents. Well, sing he can't, though he definitely has a screen appeal for a particular demographic (pre-teen girls and doting grandmas).

The mainstream media has reported one conspiracy theory extensively - call center workers from India were calling in votes for Sanjaya. That one had me in splits. Showed the total ignorance of the media here about the "Indian as a group" psychology. They need to read about the "Indian crab" tale : when shipping Indian crabs , no lid is required on the container. As soon as one will try climbing up the others will pull it down.

I was surprised by the assumption or even more so an almost sacrosanct belief that voters always make rational choices. The "Freakonomics" authors will sure have a lot to say about that. Look at the history of general elections in almost any country and one can conclude that such a belief is a myth. People vote with their hearts and not their minds. Even more so once a wave gets created people would rather ride that wave than apply any wisdom of their own. Media consultants who are experts in creating such a buzz or wave are the part of all the presidential candidates' entourage these days.

Whenever a majority views a minority they always assume that the minority behaves like a herd - "All Indians will vote for Sanjaya". Why they would think so beats me. I am reminded of an experience from my childhood - riding through the Indian countryside and stopping at roadside farms one would see young kids tending their "herd" of buffaloes or cows. While I saw them as a herd, the farmer's kid was always able to identify each animal distinctly and more often than not have a unique name for each of them.

What bugs me the most is that this attitude gets carried over to the workplace also in many cases. People stereotype minorities and try to typecast them in particular roles . "Asians are good in math and science". "Marketing ,Sales, Communication is not Indians' forte". Every person is an individual and needs to be viewed and judged as such.

Sanjaya needs to sail or sink on his own merits and talent. His being of Indian descent has nothing to do with it. If America likes him and is willing to vote for him week after week he will win. Whether he wins or loses, the producers of "American Idol" are laughing their way to the bank. Nothing like some controversy to get those viewership ratings soaring. If none existed they would have created one.

All the best - Sanjaya !!! While you may not have the singing talent, you have shown the world how to keep smiling and fighting in the face of criticism and insurmountable odds. And America loves that.

Friday, April 6, 2007

Have Festivals become too commercial ??

As Easter or any other festival arrives and the malls get decked out months in advance, a debate starts about whether festivals today are getting increasingly commercialized taking away from their "piety" or "old-worldly charm".

I think the phrase "Has Easter become too commercial ?" is an oxymoron since trade and commerce are part of any festival and have been through the ages.

Most festivals originated from the need of human beings to congregate and celebrate season changes (the solstices and the equinoxes) ; crop or herd cycles (planting time, harvesting time, birthing time etc); or rites of passage within the tribe/community (birth, puberty, marriage, death). As people congregated the traders also followed providing the food, clothing, celebratory accompaniments etc. required for the festivities.

These festivals also provided an opportunity for the wealth which had been hoarded by the community to tide over bad days to be brought into circulation again. Society was quick to realize the benefits this circulation of money brought about and the opportunities festivals offered for trades people to sell their wares to a broader populace than what they could ordinarily do. Trade brought prosperity to the communities and allowed the transition from herding/gathering to a more settled life subsequently leading to the city states which aggregated/transformed into the modern nations.

As religions emerged, major religious events also tended to occur around these festival times since those were the times when large number of people had congregated together. The trial and crucifixion of Jesus Christ during Passover celebrations or the founding of the Khalsa Panth in the Sikh Religion during the Baiaskhi festival are two examples which prove the point.

This resulted in the symbiotic relationship which exists between trade/commerce and festivals. Trade gains from the increased revenues brought about during the festivals while the festivals gain from the contributions trades people make to religious and social causes. The increased commercial activity in the marketplace represented by decorations, increased product offerings and displays, trade events etc adds to the festivity and also makes the festival meaningful and enjoyable for people who may not be part of the religious tradition to which the festival belongs.

That is why Christmas in the US or Diwali in India or Eid in the Middle East can transcend religious boundaries to become festivals for all people. If the festivals were confined to the church/temple or mosque alone they cannot be the joyous occasions for all , trade & commerce have helped them to be.

In some cases Trade has actually created festivals which did not exist earlier e.g. Mothers day, Father's day etc. But once again they fulfilled a need for publicly expressing emotions which wss getting missed out in the absence of a formal festival.

Throughout the ages there have also been strong undercurrents against the trading class or "money" in general. Tradespeople have generally been placed behind the priestly and warrior classes in hierarchical societies. A perception has been created that one cannot be making money and be pious at the same time which has been extended to the logic that if a festival is becoming "commercial" it is becoming less "holy". I do not subscribe to that logic.

The increased commerce is also a manifestation of the concept of free enterprise on which our economy is founded. No seller would make/sell a product unless someone is willing to buy it. People are not just buying Easter stuff because it is out there. Rather the stuff is being made and sold because the buyers have a need for those products which the sellers are fulfilling. The concept of personal responsibility needs to extend here too- if the people don't need something they should not buy it.

So I believe, trade and commerce are as much part of Easter as they are of any other festival . They make the festival more meaningful and do not in anyway detract from its meaning. What do you think ?

Globalization and Technology

I was recently invited to speak to a group of professionals under the auspices of the International Resources Group Inc at Rochester, NY about "Globalization and Technology". The points I made during my talk can be summarized as :

1. Globalization is nothing new. It is as old as human existence.

2. Globalization itself is neither good nor bad. Like any other aspect of human endeavor, it’s impacts can either be good or bad. And we can control that.

3. Technology is the key enabler of the current rapid pace of Globalization. Globalization and Technology have a symbiotic relationship with each gaining from the other.

4. Maintaining technological leadership is essential to ensuring leadership position in the global economy.

5. “Integrated Diversity” of the US population makes it uniquely poised to reap the benefits of globalization.

The first point surprised a few listeners who had till now viewed globalization as a current economic phenomenon.

I believe that Globalization is as old as humankind itself. Migration of people, ideas and inter regional commerce has been an integral part of the human experience on this planet.

Spread of Christianity, Islam and Buddhism to places far from their places of origin was a manifestation of globalization. As were the journeys of Christopher Columbus, Marco Polo, Vasco Da Gama, Magellan and many others who followed in their footsteps.

Even when the earth was considered to be flat , there was always a strong urge to peek just beyond the rim to see what lay there and how one could benefit from it.

I can visualize Geico’s famous cavemen sitting around a fire discussing the impact of writing on clay tablets since now they were no longer confined to painting on their cave walls. And as always, some would have predicted the end of the world and others would have seized the opportunity and tried to make the most of it.

So while Globalization has always been there, what has changed today is the pace with which its influence, reach and impact can be felt around the globe.

The point about "Integrated Diversity" also sparked some discussion. The US has the unique advantage of having amongst its citizenry & workforce people from all parts of the globe. This “integrated diversity” is not yet fully utilized by corporations to it’s full potential. No other country operating in the global arena has this advantage. You may not find a Fijian or an Icelander in China but you would very well do in the US. And that’s a strength which needs to be leveraged .

The rise of India and China is often used to scare people in the US. I do not think that is valid. Technological leadership will determine whether we end up as victims or victors in this race. We have that edge right now and it is up to all of us to ensure that we do not allow our leaders to take their eye of the ball as far as funding technical education and innovation is concerned.

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