A recent essay by George Leopold (Opinion, Sept. 19, page 4) urged the Semiconductor Industry Association to focus on innovation, not government handouts. We at SIA strongly agree on that point. Maintaining and enhancing a climate for innovation must be the cornerstone of our nation's strategy for maintaining leadership in an increasingly competitive global economy.
We seem to disagree, however, on two fundamental questions: First, is the U.S. semiconductor industry doing its part to share risks and support the research efforts essential to driving innovation? And is government funding for basic research at U.S. universities and national laboratories equivalent to industry handouts and corporate welfare?
In response to the first question, we would note that in 2004, the U.S. semiconductor industry provided more than $60 million in grants for basic research at U.S. universities through three consortia: the Focus Center Research Program, the Semiconductor Research Corp. and the Nanoelectronics Research Initiative. U.S. chip companies also independently provided an additional $300 million for university research programs. These sums are over and above the $15 billion invested annually by U.S. semiconductor manufacturers on research and development programs.
Regarding the second question, we would stress that federal funding of basic scientific research has been a fundamental part of our nation's strategy for economic growth and national security at least since the establishment of the National Science Foundation in 1950. According to NSF data, federal funding for basic research as a percentage of U.S. gross domestic product has declined from 1.8 percent in 1963 to 0.7 percent in 2001.
The return on public and private investment in research and development is enormous: The U.S. Bureau of Economic Affairs estimates that the federal, state and local governments have reaped benefits of more than $350 billion in "free" computing as a direct result of technology advances since 1995.
American consumers and businesses have also realized huge benefits during the same time frame from advances in semiconductor technology, including dramatic increases in productivity and world-leading economic growth coupled with the deflationary effects of continuous advances in semiconductor technology.
The following conclusions are indisputable: First, investing in research and development is essential to driving innovation; second, the return on this investment is enormous; and third, leadership in science and technology contributes to national security, better health, more jobs, a higher standard of living and cultural progress.
Our call for increased funding for basic research is not a request for handouts or corporate welfare. We are seeking additional funding for basic research at U.S. universities and the national laboratories. Not one penny will go to private manufacturers. Incidentally, the best way to maintain the supremacy of U.S. universities as the world's foremost research institutions is to do basic research. This is a goal that should unite all of us.
George M. Scalise, President, Semiconductor Industry Association, San Jose, Calif.
Communication, management skills will smooth globalization
I agree with Patrick Mannion's article about aging engineers and career changes (Sept. 19, page 1)-specifically that engineers must be mobile and that no job is guaranteed. I will comment on that from a global labor perspective.
Outsourcing will happen. Embracing the benefits of labor globalization and learning how to collaborate efficiently across distance and culture is a talent that will make any engineer more valuable.
As a U.S. engineer who moved abroad and worked as "offshore labor" before opening an outsourcing company, I have seen that the skills of remote engineers are sometimes unduly faulted or that their talent is not fully recognized because of ineffective management and communication issues.
I believe that the globalization of the tech labor pool has two bottlenecks: smooth communication and experienced global management. The engineers who can work with remote teams as effectively as they do with those who sit a few yards away will be doing a tremendous service to their own careers. And, as the engineers in Mannion's article pointed out, it certainly wouldn't hurt to keep your skills up to date.
74ze Engineering Inc.
San Jose, Calif.