"Its wonderful that Asia is rising to become a great economic power. They are hard working, family-oriented, educated and ambitious," Romney said. "They dont just want to make toys, they want to make MRI machines and jumbo jets. Just as the center of manufacturing moved from Europe to the U. S., they want to keep it moving to Asia. Asia would like us to become the France of the 21st century."
Prior to being elected governor of Massachusetts in 2002, Romney headed the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, and was previously the CEO of investment firm Bain Capital. Romney, a Republican, has been mentioned as a possible presidential candidate.
Underlining the challenge, Romney said leaders of one technology firm in Massachusetts anticipated that 90 percent of its skilled labor would be in Asia in 10 years. He also pointed to statistics that show the United States graduating only 4,400 mathematics and science PhDs each year compared with 24,900 math and science PhDs for greater Asia.
"China and India have a population a multiple of ours. They have natural resources. There is no reason they cant emerge as the superpower. The only way we can preserve that role for ourselves is through innovation. Its erroneous that we do high-level work here and send low-level work abroad. When our market is no longer the largest market in the world, the idea that were going to be innovating and theyre going to be copying is erroneous," Romney said.
In response to the looming crisis, Romney pointed to some specific problems and proposed some remedies. He said we must close the educational achievement gap between racial groups in the United States. "The education gap is the civil rights issue of our age." He also said all U.S. students must raise their standing compared with students in other industrialized countries. According to one study, U. S. students rank 25th out of 41 industrial nations. "Fewer and fewer are performing at the top level," he said.
He suggested paying teachers a $5,000 bonus for teaching Advanced Placement courses, as well as giving the top third of teachers a $5,000 bonus. He also suggested a bonus for teachers that teach in troubled school districts. Romney also favored giving secondary school students laptop computers.
He pointed to some educational achievements in Massachusetts, where fourth graders ranked first in the country in math and English. He also noted that Massachusetts students ranking in the top fourth of their class can attend state institutions tuition-free under a scholarship program he supported.
"I want to make sure that Massachusetts remains competitive." Speaking of the nation, he said, "I want the center of technology and innovation to remain here. I am overwhelmingly optimistic about our ability to rise to the occasion."
He said government must invest in technology, power generation and material science. He also advocated granting citizenship to foreign students graduating from U.S. universities. He favored government funding of university research but complained, "Were cutting back so we can fuel entitlements."
Romney said he is also open to public-private consortiums and said the European example of Airbus may offer the United States some lessons. But he rejected protectionism. "Its very tempting to close of your markets, but at some point it comes crashing down."
George Colony, CEO of Forrester, noted that Massachusetts has lost technology companies over the years. Romney pointed to the high cost of housing in the Boston area and Massachusetts reputation as a high-tax state as reasons. "If we are the most expensive place in America to live in, thats going to make it difficult for people to come here and grow. Our housing prices are way out of line."
Romney also said health care reform is essential to making the U. S. competitive. He said private health insurance could be successfully reformed, instead of creating a state-run health-care system. "A single-payer system in our country would not work because we would not stand for rationing."
Romney cited IT innovation during his tenure as governor. He said state services are now delivered through a common portal so that citizens needing aid can be informed instantly of all the programs for which they are eligible. He said that IT housecleaning had also removed ineligible citizens from some programs.
He also voiced support for the states policy to insist that state documents be stored in the OpenDocument format so that they might be accessible indefinitely at no charge to taxpayers. Microsoft has objected to the policy since it would mean storing documents in non-Microsoft formats.
In foreign policy he said we must win the war against a "radical jihad," but that we must enable jihadists to become part of the global economy.
Romney pointed to his experience in analyzing data to run a successful business as good training for addressing the needs of state and federal governments. "Analysis and data is just as powerful in the public sector as in the private sector. Romney noted that he took office in Massachusetts facing a $3 billion deficit, but found ways to close the deficit without raising taxes.