Innovation has been the engine of economic growth for millennia. Entire civilizations have been built on “innovation advances” like fire, the wheel, the stirrup, gunpowder, and the steam engine. More recently we have seen our standard of living increase dramatically as a result of the benefits – and the jobs – created by advances in health care, telecommunications, and information technology. Innovation is our hope for a better tomorrow. It allows us to learn faster, reach farther, work better, dream bigger, and live longer.
For generations, North America has led the world in innovation. But our innovation dominance is being challenged. In order to be able to hand over a strong North America to future generations, we must not let our innovation lead slip away. We must lead in discovery. We must lead in the application of technology to improve the safety and wellbeing of the citizens of the North America.
This reality is reflected today in both Washington and Ottawa, where innovation is at the top of the agendas of both the Obama administration and the Harper government.
President Obama’s State of the Union Address earlier this year had innovation as a central theme and he has proposed numerous initiatives in that speech to improve America’s innovation performance. Prime Minister Harper has also emphasized the importance of innovation to the future living standards of Canadians in his government’s most recent Speech from the Throne and in his creation of an Expert Panel on Research and Development to analyze the contribution of R&D to Canada’s innovation performance.
A few weeks ago Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech in New York in which she laid out her vision of “economic statecraft”, where she talked about the need to elevate the role of economics and business in our diplomacy. They go hand-in-hand. Diplomacy strengthens our economy at home and the economy strengthens our diplomacy abroad.
I had an important lesson in how all of these strands come together in the relationship between the United States and Canada when the United States Embassy, along with Canada 2020, sponsored a conference, The U.S. – Canada Partnership: Enhancing the Innovation Eco-System , designed to enhance the U.S.-Canada innovation climate in order to spur economic recovery and create jobs in both of our countries.
Conference attendees from business, NGOs, government and academia from both countries heard from keynote speakers Governor General David Johnston, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Thomas Nides, Canadian Minister of State for Science and Technology Gary Goodyear, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (introduced by Canadian Ambassador to the United States Gary Doer) and White House Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator Victoria Espinel.
Panels featuring American and Canadian experts covered four topics, each of which saw a focus on our natural grass-roots level closeness:
• how sub-national government policies (think: cities, states/provinces, and even regional organizations) and federal policies can have a positive effect on innovation;
• the important role research universities play in the innovation eco-system and how collaboration is a key to the future;
• financing innovative entrepreneurs; and
• how successful companies manage a culture of innovation.
A few takeaways:
• Canadian and U.S. cities are interconnected and influence each other, in part because they’re looking for answers to the very same questions. Good ideas are passed on from city to city and region to region, within and across the border of our two countries.
• Universities on both sides of the border plan to scale up the relationship and make the interactions more strategic. In this way we will have a better chance to allocate the resources and the drive to accomplish far-ranging goals.
• The border doesn’t play as big a role for venture capitalists as many believe. Where companies build their factories is strongly influenced by where the technology was created.
The event was a great lesson for all of us in how we can do much more when the United States and Canada work together than either of us can when we work alone. Stay tuned for follow-up activities, including a Fulbright Fellowship in Innovation; an upcoming speakers’ series; and a focus on youth entrepreneurs.