11 May 1998
Source: http://www.osec.doc.gov/opa/mrylndit.htm

U.S. Department of Commerce
Monday, May 11, 1998
Contact: Mary F. Hanley

Remarks by U.S. Secretary of Commerce William M. Daley--Information
Technology Work Force Town Meeting

                    [As prepared for delivery]

Good morning.  It's an honor to be here today to talk about one of the most
important economic challenges we face as we prepare for the new century.  Let me
thank Senator Sarbanes and Representative Morella for hosting this forum.  Both
are strong leaders in Congress, fighting for Maryland's workers and businesses.
The Labor Department, of course, has an important role to play here, and I'm glad
Deputy Secretary Higgins could be with us.

Let me also acknowledge County Executive Duncan and all of the business groups
from Maryland who are co-sponsoring this forum.  I want to thank Vance Coffman
from Lockheed Martin, for lending his business expertise to this discussion.

And I'm pleased that Robert Ledley, one of Maryland's information technology
pioneers, could join us.  His groundbreaking work in the field of medical imaging
has helped make the U.S. the global leader in the field.  He has moved us from the
era of black and white x-rays to color images that will help doctors save lives.  And
last year, the President awarded him the National Medal of Technology.  Thank
you, Dr. Ledley, for being here.

This past January in Berkeley, California, the Commerce Department co-sponsored
a conference on the challenge of ensuring that the United States has the
information technology workers it needs to grow and compete.  I announced then
that I would continue the dialogue through a series of town meetings around the
country.  The idea was to bring together leaders from government, business, the
academic community, and employee groups to examine the problem and, with our
combined expertise, come up with some creative solutions.

But over the last few months, discussion of this issue has drifted into a debate
about temporary visas for foreign workers.  There are legitimate differences over
that program.  And those differences are being worked out through the political

But what I'd like to do today is try to refocus the conversation on a more
fundamental issue: how we can cultivate home-grown American talent...how we
can train and educate our own people to excel in the high-tech jobs that dominate
our economy.  That is the key to helping us compete and win in the 21st century.

And this is the ideal place to have that conversation.  You know, to most people
who live in Washington, Shady Grove is best known as the last stop on the
northbound Red Line Metro.  I think they'd be surprised to hear about the
innovative partnerships you're building...about your work to prepare people for the
high-tech jobs available in this region.

Ironically, the need for IT workers is, in a sense, a function of our economic
vitality as a nation.  This is the strongest American economy in a generation.
There's never been a better time to be in business in America than right now.  And,
I might add, there's never been a better time to be Secretary of Commerce.

In the first quarter of 1998, the economy grew a startling 4.2 percent.  Under
President Clinton's stewardship, 15 million new jobs have been created since 1993.
Unemployment dipped to 4.3 percent in April, its lowest point in 28 years.
Inflation is down; business investment is booming; and private sector growth is on
the rise.

In large part, what's fueling this economic boom is an explosion in high-tech
growth, especially in information technologies.  Our economy is changing -- before
our very eyes and faster than anyone could have imagined.

When President Clinton took office only five and a half years ago, there were 50 --
only 50 -- websites.  Today, the Internet is a staple of American life.  Internet
traffic doubles ever 100 days.  A whole new digital economy is emerging.  Last
month, I released a report that showed that information technologies are
responsible for more than one quarter of economic growth in the last five years.

Consider how this area has changed.  There was a time when the I-270 corridor
was lined with bedroom communities.  As recently as 20 years ago, this area was
largely rural.  Many of you probably remember the John Denver song "Country
Road."  It wasn't actually West Virginia he was singing about...it was Clopper
Road in Gaithersburg.

But today, suburban Maryland is an economic force in its own right.  Montgomery
County in particular has emerged as a high-tech center in recent years.  Nearly half
of the 20,000 private employers in Montgomery County are in technology or
technology-related fields.  This area is attracting the highest concentration of
scientists and engineers in the country.

And still, businesses are having trouble finding enough of them.  Innovation is
moving faster than our ability to train our people to manage it.  The supply of high-tech workers is struggling to keep up with the demand.  The High Technology
Council of Maryland estimates that this state alone has as many as 12,000 openings
in IT positions.  Nationally, over the next decade, we will need 1.3 million new IT
workers, according to a report we put out at the Commerce Department.

And that only includes high-end workers -- systems analysts, computer scientists,
engineers, and programmers -- the people who create information systems.  When
you consider the demand simply for those who know how to use these systems, the
need is much, much greater.

So now, just about every American company is staring down the barrel of this
problem.  Because information technology permeates every sector of the economy,
and IT workers are now key employees everywhere.  Not just at high-tech firms,
but also in traditional industries like autos, steel, and agriculture.  They manage the
manufacturing processes.  They coordinate the transportation networks.  They
facilitate communications services.  Big retailers use computer systems to manage
their inventory.  And there's got to be someone who knows how to use that
computer system.

As you well know, the stakes here are enormous.  Without adequate human capital,
products may be delayed and expansion plans may get shelved.  It can undermine
your performance in global markets.  It can have a real impact on your bottom line.

Still, I think we need to get away from calling this a "problem."  Instead, let's think
of it as an opportunity -- an opportunity to invest in our people.  And it's an
opportunity we can seize only if we all work together -- government, industry, and

That was the idea behind the conference at Berkeley -- to bring the different parties
to the table and begin a dialogue.  We have succeeded in raising awareness on the
issue.  A healthy debate has begun -- in Congress, in states and localities, at
universities, in corporate boardrooms, and even in virtual communities on the

But Berkeley was about more than analysis.  It was about action.  Today, I'm
pleased to announce three new initiatives that we're launching, in partnership with
our National Medal of Technology winners.

First, we're developing a series of "tech talks".  Our Medal recipients will meet
with  children and families at science and technology museums around the country
to discuss their work.  We piloted these talks at the Tech Museum of Innovation in
San Jose, where we had several standing-room only crowds.  Our goal for the
coming year is to take our tech talks to a science and technology center in every
major region of the country.

Second, we're going to facilitate an on-line mentoring program.  Students working
on science and technology projects will be able to exchange e-mail with our Medal
winners, receiving the benefit of their advice and insight.

And third, the Commerce Department will coordinate a speakers bureau for groups
that want to feature Medal recipients as keynoters at conferences and seminars.

There is a common thread running through these three educational initiatives:
inspiring Americans -- especially young Americans -- to pursue technology-related
careers.  We have to start by encouraging our children to dream as much about
being a software engineer as a basketball player.  Now, I don't know if "I wanna
be like Andy Grove" has the same ring as "I wanna be like Mike."  But still there
are things we can do to nurture our children's interests in information technology.

There is more that we are prepared to do, beyond these education initiatives.  As
you know, the year 2000 computer problem is consuming quite a bit of IT talent.  I
know that this is something Representative Morella has made a major focus of her
work.  Short-term, we need more programmers to ensure that this bug doesn't
disrupt economic activity when the clock strikes midnight two New Year's Eves
from now.

Smaller manufacturers, in particular, are not well prepared for the year 2000.  So I
am announcing today that the Commerce Department's Manufacturing Extension
Partnership will be conducting seminars to raise awareness and understanding of
the problem.  We will also help client manufacturers assess their systems and
prepare a remediation project.

There are plenty of strong public policy ideas out there on ways to close the skills
gap.  Senator Sarbanes, for example,  has introduced a bill that would build the
capabilities of our workforce by fostering regional skills alliances.  And
Congresswoman Morella has proposed legislation to bring more women into
technical fields, where they have been historically underrepresented.

Last week, the Senate, by a large margin, passed the new G.I. Bill for American
workers.  This bill would integrate some 70 federal education and job training
programs.  Block grants, controlled by local officials, would create more flexible
programs, which would be tailored to the specific needs of the labor pool in each

The President has done his part too, to help harness technology for the benefit of
the American people.  He has increased investments in science and technology
every year that he has been in office -- that is, I might add, while bringing the
budget deficit down to zero.  He has also worked tirelessly to connect every
schoolchild to the Information Superhighway by the turn of the century.

But for all of government's efforts, no one else besides private industry can really
make this happen.  And right here in Maryland, the private sector is stepping up to
the plate with some fresh ideas.

Take, for example, Microcosm, Inc., whose CEO will be speaking here later today.
When this company began focusing on gaming software, it put together a group of
high-school students to work on the design and technical coding.  This gave
students exposure to the IT sector.  It allowed them to work with the technology
used by industry.  And it taught them other important skills, like team-building and
project management.

Lockheed Martin has also done outstanding work, supporting student internships in
information technology.  They have also brought local educators to industry
through tours and summer faculty internships.  And they've founded a number of
academies across the country to help train math and science teachers.

We need more companies to come up with creative approaches like these.  Go to
the place where human capital is molded -- our schools.  Cultivate relationships
with universities, local community colleges, and even at the K-12 level.  Talk to
schools as you would talk to a supplier.  After all, schools supply the most
important raw material of all -- your future workforce.

When it comes to recruitment, I challenge you to go after mid-career professionals,
those who were squeezed out of work by defense downsizing.  I challenge you to
look for people who have enormous potential...but who need a chance.  I challenge
you to look to groups that are underrepresented in today's workforce -- women,
minorities, and the disabled.

In the last few years, the President asked American industry to be good corporate
citizens; to take on new responsibilities; to help people move from welfare to work.
And they responded to the challenge.  On Saturday, I met with the Business
Council, which includes CEOs of some of our largest and wealthiest corporations.
And I issued a similar challenge.  I challenged them to join us in the effort to
upgrade worker skills.  We need to move beyond the existing model.  We need a
new strategy, one where training is continuous, where a lifetime of learning allows
American workers to change as the economy changes.

And there's no reason why the Fortune 500 can't help show the way.  It would be
an investment with a high return.  They would reap the dividends.  It's an
opportunity for them do well by doing good.  Because a more skilled, 21st century
workforce will help country, company, and community alike.

We live in a New Economy now, where knowledge and information have replaced
rubber, steel, and coal as the tools of growth and prosperity.  In the New Economy,
developing human capital is more important than ever before.  The Old Economy
was based on the repetition of tasks learned by rote.  The New Economy demands
a new approach, one where we encourage workers to always learn new tasks and
assimilate new information.

For all of the machines, for all of the innovation and automation, people -- and
their skills -- are what make this economy tick.  A web browser didn't just
suddenly materialize at the University of Illinois a few years ago.  Mark Andreesen
dreamed it and discovered it.

So let's resolve today to invest in our people.  Throughout our nation's history,
they have shown themselves eager to embrace new challenges, to adopt new
techniques, to master new systems.  Our people -- their intelligence, their
flexibility, and their determination -- will lead us into the next great century.

Let's make a commitment to them...that we will help them seize the opportunities -- the very rich opportunities -- of the Information Age.  And in so doing, we will
head into the future as the most competitive...the most innovative...the strongest
economy in the world.  Thank you.

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