Stem-Cell Research Could Help Keep U.S. Jobs

Opinion: A California ballot initiative to raise $3 billion for such research could help prevent its outsourcing to locales such as the United Kingdom.

Its an odd point in the political universe when two hot-button issues are as closely related as the arguments about outsourcing U.S. jobs and the debate over the ethics of stem-cell research.

On the surface, the two dont seem related. In fact, each can enrage its political opponents. Mention outsourcing to a Democrat, and youll get an earful about "Benedict Arnolds" and how the administration needs to more to keep jobs in the United States. Talk to Republicans about stem cell research, and youre just as likely to hear about lax scientific ethics and the need to preserve all forms of human life.

That, of course, is why these are typical of what professional politicians call "wedge issues": causes that encourage voters to go to the polls in November out of a sense of outrage, fear or some other emotion.

But thats not true for the tech community. In fact, a tech entrepreneur might want to make the case that on both issues, the parties have it exactly wrong.

Pretty much everyone in tech—where unions are reviled and independence treasured—realizes that jobs are leaving the United States for other countries where wages are lower. Tech companies have manufacturing plants all over Asia. They do business around the globe and have long assembled their products near their markets.

"Theres only so much of that we can continue to prevent, says California Controller Steve Westly, a former eBay executive and one of Silicon Valleys up-and-coming politicians.

Westly sees outsourcing and a California initiative to fund stem-cell research as intimately connected. Why? Because funding stem-cell research means keeping high-paying jobs in the United States, a movement that could fuel the states and the nations economic growth. "This is the job base of the future," he says.

Westly says he worries about this sort of research moving overseas, and its not an idle concern. The United Kingdom last week issued its first licenses to allow stem-cell research from cloned human cells, making, according to news reports, a "research climate more consistent" than that in the United States.

The scientists doing the work in the United Kingdom are skilled, well-educated and highly paid—just the sort of folks any country wants working within its borders. In fact, theyre the very kind of workers that the Bay Area Economic Forum has said Silicon Valley should try to recruit and fund, Westly says.

/zimages/2/28571.gifAre the presidential candidates taking sides on the issue of outsourcing? Click here to read more.

Stem-cell research and experimentation form a complicated process, and its controversial because it requires the destruction of early-stage human embryo cells. Thats why President Bush has put a stop to federal funding of research using embryonic human cells.

To make up for the lack of federal funding, a group of Northern Californians have put on the states November ballot an initiative to raise $3 billion for such research.

Their referendum on stem cells, should it pass, will be a sort of economic kick-start, Westly says. The ballot initiative, Proposition 71, is important not just because of the money it will generate—$295 million a year for 10 years—but also for the jobs it will create at all economic levels.

"It sends a strong signal, Westly says. "Its one of the most important things California can and should be doing."

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