Sandy K. Baruah, the U.S. assistant secretary of commerce for economic development, visited the UC San Diego campus March 9 to discuss President Bush’s economic development agenda.
Baruah, who has served the Bush administration and the U.S. Department of Commerce since 2001, was nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate in 2005 to serve in his present post. As assistant secretary, Baruah is the principal representative of the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration and serves as a senior adviser to the secretary of commerce on domestic economic development matters.
Speaking at the UCSD Faculty Club, Baruah noted that Bush has proposed a $47 million increase for the EDA in his 2007 budget request to Congress to focus on regional competitiveness.
Baruah referred to UCSD as “a tremendous resource for innovation in the region, ranking sixth in the U.S. in federally funded research,” and commended UCSD Chancellor Marye Anne Fox for her “commitment to strengthening UCSD’s partnerships with the local business community, which will maintain and strengthen the university’s position as one of the region’s key economic engines.”
Baruah participated in a round-table with Fox and Julie Meier Wright, president and chief executive officer of the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. Following the discussion, Baruah spoke with the San Diego Business Journal.
Question: President Bush has been advocating the importance of education and retraining in keeping Americans competitive in the workplace. But critics say that the real problem facing American workers is the trend toward outsourcing jobs abroad, not a lack of education and training.
Answer: We understand the concerns about outsourcing. Any time anyone loses their job is an issue of concern. But we have to weigh that against the fact that there is far more insourcing that occurs than outsourcing. Insourcing is when foreign companies, like Kyocera or Toyota, or all these other foreign companies doing business, are employing large numbers of American workers in higher-skilled, higher-waged jobs.
Let’s not forget that Toyota Camrys are built in the United States, BMWs are built in the United States, Mercedes and SUVs are built in the United States. These are all products that the American public clearly is demanding and have expressed a willingness to buy. They are the leaders in their fields, and are built by Americans with high-paying jobs.
There is a lot more insourcing than outsourcing. It doesn’t minimize the challenge for those individuals facing stiff competition from abroad. We need to create a culture where we are constantly learning. At the end of the day, innovation and competitiveness is really any country’s only sustainable competitive advantage.
The world marketplace is the world marketplace. We can either choose to ignore it, or we can choose to shape it. If you look at America’s history, we have always succeeded when we have engaged in the worldwide marketplace, engaged the world around us. We have always faltered when we try to be too insular and look just within our borders , the tariffs of year’s past and other examples when we tried to put up walls and pretend that the world around us did not matter.
Q: There is a company here in San Diego that has been engaged by the United Arab Emirates to help build a city on an island in Abu Dhabi. Just recently, a Dubai-owned company abandoned plans to manage six U.S. ports, because of Congress’ concern over what it perceived as a possible threat to national security. Given the current climate in this country, how do you reconcile the administration’s desire to foster entrepreneurship and global commerce with the concerns over national security?
A: Our national security concerns are focused on members of radical Islam. We have had productive and friendly and close relationships with several Arab nations for a long, long period of time. U.A.E., in particular, has been a partner in the global war on terror. For us to have, as a nation, looked at this port situation and not even allowed the 45-day review period to see its conclusion was rather unfortunate. We need to be careful that we are sending the right message to our friends and allies across the globe.
The global marketplace presents a tremendous opportunity for the American worker and American business. We can only tap into the global marketplace if we are engaged. American history is that when we compete, we win. When we engage, we win.
Q: How do you view San Diego in this regard?
A: I think that San Diego is doing a lot of things very, very well. The very fact that one-third of San Diego workers are in some kind of high-tech field is very promising for San Diego’s continued economic prosperity. And that the fine educational institutions, such as the University of California, San Diego, are producing even more highly skilled, highly trained workers is promising for San Diego’s future economic prosperity, and the collaborative relationships that have built between the private sector and various government entities and institutions like UCSD are all promising signs for San Diego.
Q: San Diego has a number of well-regarded schools. But do you think more effort is needed?
A: We need to encourage more students to go into math, science and engineering fields. The president has proposed the American Competitiveness Initiative, not just at the collegiate level, but at the K-through-12 level. The president wants to get significantly more teachers to focus on math, science and engineering and provide targeted assistance to those students, so we can get them prepared for an education of math and science, and get more students at the collegiate level going into math, science and engineering.
Q: The former superintendent of the San Diego Unified School District, Alan Bersin, was criticized for placing too much emphasis on testing. What is your position on this?
A: I think that testing is critical. We need to know, and our communities need to know, how well our students are learning and how effective is the school system. There is no way to find that out unless you have some standards, and you test to that. I look at the No Child Left Behind Act, which was accomplished very early in the president’s tenure in office. The No Child Left Behind Act is working, and it’s providing parents a yardstick they can see, to find out, “Is my student learning or is my school teaching or not?” That’s important.