Commerce secretary speaks at CMU

Three days after President George W. Bush announced a new initiative to keep the United States competitive in a global economy, one of his top officials came to town to discuss how Carnegie Mellon can be a part of it.

Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez visited CMU’s Collaborative Innovation Center on Friday to promote the American Competitiveness Initiative, announced by Bush during his State of the Union address last Tuesday night.

“To keep America competitive, one commitment is necessary above all: We must continue to lead the world in human talent and creativity,” the President said in his address. “Our greatest advantage in the world has always been our educated, hardworking, ambitious people — and we’re going to keep that edge.”

Gutierrez summed up the initiative’s purpose in the beginning of his speech. “The idea is to encourage innovation throughout our economy, [to] encourage everyone to get excited about innovating, about creating new things, and ... about refocusing on math and science education,” he said. Research in nanotechnology, hydrogen, and quantum information will be specifically targeted, Gutierrez said.

In explaining how America can boost its advantage in the global economy, Gutierrez echoed much of the rationale Bush presented on Tuesday night.

“One of the things that we need to understand ... is that we can’t innovate and grow, and at the same time retreat from the world,” he said.

Like Bush, he also stressed the importance of open markets, affordable health care, and new energy sources.

Gutierrez, a native of Cuba who came to the U.S. with his family at the age of seven, drew a link between American ingenuity and immigration policy.

“We also need to recognize that our tradition of immigration and assimilation is a distinct competitive advantage,” he said.

“You’ve seen in other countries around the world how much trouble they’ve had with assimilating immigration, with just enabling immigrants to fit in and form part of the fabric of society. We know how to do that; we’ve been doing it for over 200 years.”

Gutierrez acknowledged that America’s multinational workforce provides an edge over other countries that have more homogeneous populations. “Immigration brings new ideas, new innovations, and new energy into our economy, and I see it right here in this university,” the secretary said.

Noting that Bush’s announcement had “excited the entire technology sector,” University president Jared Cohon discussed CMU’s strengths in a more general way, focusing on the University’s reputation for conducting research.

“This university has very much embraced ... the idea in particular that the key for America’s continuing success has to be building on our strengths and being the best we can be when it comes to developing new products and new ideas,” Cohon said.

The secretary’s visit here included a number of technological demonstrations, showcasing CMU’s work in a variety of scientific domains.

Noting that CMU research projects have launched more than 70 start-up companies, Gutierrez stressed the importance of being able to transform new ideas and concepts into viable commercial products.
“What’s being done here at Carnegie Mellon — the fact that there are businesses here sponsoring some of these projects, the fact that you’re using some government grants — that linkage and that teamwork, we believe, is a big part of our advantage as a nation,” he said.

Gutierrez said he was impressed with the University’s display of talent and research ideas.

“I think it’s just impossible to spend time here and not walk out feeling optimistic about the future of our country,” he said. “You are really setting an example of what can be done and why it is that we’re going to have a great, great 21st century.”

Yun Seong Song, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, was encouraged by the secretary’s positive response.

“The fact that he’s really interested in technology, especially at CMU, helps the University’s image,” Song told the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.