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It’s Time to Woo More Foreign Students and Companies, Says Paul Krutko

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immigrants started 25 percent of venture-backed U.S. public companies. These companies are concentrated in cutting-edge sectors—high-tech manufacturing, information technology, and life sciences—with market capitalization exceeding $500 billion in 2005, and they include giants like eBay, Google, Intel, Yahoo, and Sun Microsystems.

Echoing longstanding calls for a “startup visa” program, Krutko says it should be easier for foreign-born entrepreneurial students to stay and start their companies here. “It’s important to speed up the visa process and take a hard look at who we’re training,” he says. “Why aren’t we handing foreign students who want to stay green cards along with their diplomas? Instead, they’re going home and creating companies that the U.S. will have to compete with.”

When it comes to competing foreign companies, one area where Krutko sees “tremendous potential” is in the Obama administration’s new SelectUSA program. Designed to complement the efforts of state economic development agencies, SelectUSA was created to attract foreign investment by touting the United States as the world’s premier business location and providing easier access to federal incentives and services related to business investment.

For example, Krutko says if Michigan were trying to lure a foreign company to locate in the state, the federal government would come to the table as a partner in the courtship. Government officers might send a letter on official letterhead inviting the company to its country’s U.S. embassy for a discussion on the benefits of a Michigan office. Or the U.S. government might arrange for a senior administration official—only the president himself is unavailable for this task—to call the company’s CEO and deliver a sales pitch. (“Can you imagine getting a call from Hillary Clinton?” Krutko marvels.) The idea of SelectUSA is to use all of the tools of the American government in the wooing process, which is something state economic development officials have never had the opportunity to access.

“I’ve been in economic development for 30 years, and we’ve never had a commitment like this from an administration,” Krutko says. Given that fact, is he worried that the new tools laid out under SelectUSA would fall by the wayside as the result of a presidential leadership change? “I would hope that whatever administration is in power would agree it’s not a bad thing to have companies invest in America,” he says.

No matter what the outcome of the November election, Krutko hopes it will give Congress a renewed call to action. “As we talk to companies, they’re optimistic, but they’re uncertain over the election and federal fiscal issues, like the budget, that have to be resolved,” he adds. “What’s interesting is that a lot of companies are running at full capacity and they’d like to grow, but the ground seems a little unsteady. Whatever happens, Washington needs to work hard to solve those problems because it’s holding investment back. It’s a real drag on potential growth.”

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