Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Innovation and Competitiveness and Our Future

We need to up-our-game. It is unlikely that the supportive winds of a global recovery will arrive for years and therefore we need to put in place now the foundation to have a big sail (think spinnaker) to catch the wind if and when it arrives.

Lets focus on education, innovation and competitiveness.

A recent report carried our by a Washington DC think tank ranks Ireland as 13th out of 40 for innovation and competitiveness. In some categories we did poorly, but overall we are in the top 15 of 40. In areas like corporate tax rates and foreign direct investment we are #1. The report focused on EU states and the US.

One of the many things concerning about the report is that Ireland only rank 18th in R&D and below places like China and the EU10 accession countries. This bodes badly for us in the future should our standing remain so low.

In the category of GDP per hour worked, Ireland exceeds the United State but in terms of I.T. investment and researchers per capita we are only at 75% approx. of the US levels. Again this is worrying.

While VC capital availability has become more troublesome from the last survey we are still 14th and in the top 10 for entrepreneurship.

With the ongoing rise of China, India and global competition Ireland, the EU and the US will need to up-its-game.

I know investment capital at the moment is as rare as hens that have teeth. People are maxed out with borrowings including our government but where we can, indeed where we must we should focus now on…

1. Education – the cornerstone. Lets focus on the science, technology, energy, climate and food. I think clean traceable organic food may be the next “black gold”. And Ireland can be a super producer of this currently under appreciated commodity.

2. Technical Rights to Succeed. We need all the facilitating links to make sure we catch the wind and contribute to it.

a. The right regulatory framework – I give us an arbitrary score of 7

b. An accommodative tax policy – mixed score here. R&D investment relief OK, cost of employing and VAT is crazy, corp tax rates great. Score 6.5

c. Technological infrastructure. We are dreadful in this area. We need to do more and fast. I live 21 miles from Dublin and cant get broadband.

3. Focus on some “wicked problems” where we have strengths. E.g. we can contribute significantly to solving our and others fossil fuel dependency. Ireland has masses of untapped wind and waver energy. While we may not have the capital base to do the entire R&D required we must invest in these areas. We have had success before. Same can be said again for good food and water.

In conclusion, we and others are on our knees at the moment but we must continue to invest in our long term. Increase our productive capacity by focusing on education in the first instance and removing the hurdles to innovation and competitiveness.

In Ireland we are innovative and entrepreneurial by nature but we must keep our morale strong. Yes things are bad and will get worse, but “this too shall pass”, and when it does our attitude is what will fuel our recovery.

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