“A truly prosperous American economy is one that is diversified, driven by innovation and works for all people. I believe that to achieve this across the country, we must embrace technology and use it as a vehicle to put people to work. I support advanced American manufacturing, as well as a nationwide investment in high-tech apprenticeships and worker training programs.”
These policy beliefs, stated on Congressman’s Ro Khanna’s website, coincide in many ways with the goals of the Institute, such as advocating for greater diversity, advancing innovation for the greater good of American residents and supporting the education of our workforce.
At just 41 years of age, Rep. Khanna has an impressive background with a strong blend of business and political acumen. Both of his parents immigrated to the United States in the 1970s from India in search of opportunity and a better life for their children; his father, a chemical engineer, and his mother, a teacher. Rep. Khanna’s commitment to public service was inspired by his grandfather who was active in Gandhi’s independence movement, even spending several years in jail for his commitment to promoting human rights.
Trained as a lawyer specializing in intellectual property law, Rep. Khanna is also intimately familiar with the higher education system, having taught economics at Stanford University, law at Santa Clara University and American Jurisprudence at San Francisco State University.
His tenure in public service is impressive: Rep. Khanna served in President Barack Obama’s administration as Deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. Department of Commerce, and in 2012, California Governor Jerry Brown appointed him to the California Workforce Investment Board.
Today Rep. Khanna represents the 17th district, which encompasses cities in Santa Clara and Alameda counties, promoting the region as a model for American innovation.
Fogarty Institute on the Cutting Edge of Job and Innovation Creation
Rep. Khanna’s visit with the Fogarty Institute entrepreneurs underscored his belief that innovation is the key to the country’s future competitiveness.
In fact, many people don’t realize that small business formation and startup growth is at an all-time low in the country’s history, with the fewest number of small businesses being formed and funded.
“When people think of technology and Silicon Valley, they often don’t realize that so much of the disruptive innovation is taking place in fields like healthcare. The Fogarty Institute’s model of leading innovation and taking risks is exactly what will keep our country competitive and create jobs.”
That’s critical because while technology has the extraordinary potential to create jobs, at the same time there is deep-seated anxiety in this country surrounding the fear that technology will displace jobs. However, the reality is that although jobs won’t be eliminated, the nature of the jobs will change.
Using Technology to Improve Society
Rep. Khanna shared several key ways that technology can be used to improve our communities, and he urged the entrepreneurs to consider them in their work. First, while technology has improved our ability to communicate, shop and seek entertainment, there have been fewer advances in offering people in many parts of the country the tools and technology they need to earn a livelihood that allows them to be part of the middle class. He encouraged the entrepreneurs to think about how they can open up the pathway to communities that have been left behind and demographics who haven’t been represented.
And today privacy is a concern more than ever: How do we make sure we have the rights to our own data and identity, and make sure that technology doesn’t infringe on people’s privacy? He shared his support of an “Internet Bill of Rights,” an approach that would allow people to have access to their data, including health data, and ensure their data is private and their rights are protected.
Finally, he said that entrepreneurs need to coalesce around creating a sense of connectivity within the country, citing a need to find common ground to build a common economy and provide parallel growth opportunities.
“Everyone wants their kids to have access to technology,” he said. “As your startups grow, think about opening your horizons of the audiences you engage with in your companies and work, looking beyond the default of someone local or from a top university. We have to give people the belief that there is going to be a job for them if they are willing to work hard and devote the necessary effort.”
Education Leads the Way
To help create this job growth, Rep. Khanna supports changes in education, one of which would be a “tech university,” building on a successful program by the National Science Foundation that has both high completion and placement rates. By expanding that program to provide advanced technical funding for community colleges, tech education could be tailored to local communities. Then community colleges could qualify for that funding, establish a common certification and involve the private sector to provide job opportunities.
However, for the transition to work, investment is crucial. And it’s good for everyone, he says, because as our country undergoes an economic transition driven by technology, half of the citizens will succeed through their skills and degrees, but that will create the barrier of fewer people able to buy the things companies are creating.
“Our model of economic growth is fueled by the willingness and ability of people to buy what we produce,” he notes, adding that the biggest constraint for our growth is the constraint of consumer demand and income inequality. “That’s why we need to focus on how we are going to get the remaining 50 to 60 percent of the population to also be able to succeed in an economy that is shifting.”
Healthcare Finances as a Stumbling Block
Steep costs – from fees involving hospital facilities, health insurance, malpractice and reimbursement — have been imposed on the healthcare system, which is ripe for reform.
And that’s where the Fogarty Institute entrepreneurs can help, by their work in devising new medical devices that can contribute towards those lower costs. But of course, that is just one step in a healthcare conundrum that has hit small business squarely, with soaring health premiums displacing wages.
“Skyrocketing healthcare costs not only affect access, but also our economy,” he notes. “It is by fostering innovation and directly addressing these issues that we will galvanize our future growth.”