Editorial: Globally competitive Bay Area needed

More than one-third of the employers in the Bay Area are now directly buying or selling goods or services overseas – a percentage that has nearly doubled in less than two years and includes a remarkable 26 percent of local small businesses with less than 50 employees.

The imperatives of the free market are demanding that the Bay Area economy “go global” in daily commerce, according to “Bay Area 3.0: Global Competitiveness Initiative,” a new report by the business-oriented Bay Area Council think-tank.

The council warns that our region cannot maintain its a world-class economic competitiveness unless it rapidly begins to emulate the 21st century priorities that areas from Shanghai to Singapore are already putting on fast track.

Our laws, policies and infrastructure are not keeping up with the realities of the marketplace, said Bay Area Council CEO Jim Wunderman. Significant and rapid changes are needed in order to maximize regional benefits from the fast-changing global economy.

The council envisions the Bay Area entering a third socio-economic phase, functioning as the nexus of a mega-region that competes on equal terms with other integrated mega-regions around the world. In order to accomplish this, three inter-related advancements must happen:

The Bay Area needs to get even better at attracting the most creative professionals to move here and stay here. This requires a high quality of life, including superior schools for both employees and their children. It also includes attractive housing at sensible prices, outstanding recreational opportunities and a full range of lifestyle amenities.

Equally important is to support the innovation climate. Economically successful regions of the future need the magnetism of outstanding public and private research institutions, a sophisticated network of venture capitol suppliers to finance fledgling commercial enterprises, and an established pool of high-level business professionals capable of taking the best research ideas into market.

Physically, the greater a region’s global connectivity, the more competitive the region becomes in the world economy. Trade of goods must be fostered via the most efficient contemporary airports and harbors. In addition, electronic trades and bidding must become seamless on the most advanced fiber-optic lines and wireless communications.

Meanwhile, other ambitious mega-regions are gearing up, seeking to take away what the Bay Area already has. Florida Gov. Jeb Bush has state surpluses to spend and is bidding for every research facility in the United States. He has already gotten the Scripps Research Institute and Silicon Valley’s SRI to open major centers in South Florida.

Singapore is offering Bay Area researchers whatever they need to become the world’s best. Shanghai is in process of building the world’s largest new shipping port. Venture capital from the Bay Area is being drawn into the burgeoning commercial centers of India and China.

In other words, a sure way for the Bay Area to dwindle into second-rate economic prosperity is to simply do nothing to meet the changing demands of the 21st century.

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