What are the best ways to ensure that technology continues to grow and prosper in San Diego? How do federal policies hinder that growth?
Those were major themes discussed in the first “Innovation Crossroads: Creating a Policy Climate for Global Innovation in San Diego,” a two-hour panel session held Saturday, May 31, at Qualcomm Hall.
The invitation-only forum featured two of the region’s hi-tech visionaries, Paul Jacobs, executive chairman of Qualcomm; and Greg Lucier, former chairman and CEO of Life Technologies, now chairman of the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla.
Panelists (left to right) Greg Lucier, Paul Jacobs, Scott Peters, and moderator Steve Clemons.
Joining them was Congressional Rep. Scott Peters (D-San Diego), with Steve Clemons, editor-at-large of The Atlantic magazine, serving as moderator.
The event was co-presented by UC San Diego Extension and CONNECT.
The spirited discussion gave Jacobs and Lucier free reign to reflect on how far their respective companies have come, along with San Diego’s ascendency as a world-wide tech sector.
Back in the mid-1980s, when Qualcomm was first started by Jacobs’ father, Irwin Jacobs, virtually all it took to lure top hi-tech talent to San Diego was a trip to the beach amid sunny skies, said Jacobs.
“As long as we did that and kept them away from real estate agents,” he said, “we would get them. And actually, that still works for San Diego because the price of real estate looks pretty attractive compared to other places [around the world].”
Federal and state taxes, however, don’t look so attractive to Jacobs, especially for companies such as Qualcomm that have large oversees operations. Current policy requires that federal taxes be paid if that income is brought back into the U.S.
Qualcomm employs two-thirds of its workforce in the U.S., largely in San Diego, with 95 percent of revenues generated outside the US.
Lucier heartily agreed with Jacobs that offshore tax laws needed to be changed by Congress.
“The system we have today was fine 25 years ago,” he said, “but now it’s a global economy. U.S. companies are making tons of money oversees and they have no incentive to bring that money back to the United States. … It’s so freakin’ simple, it’s unbelievable.”
Peters decried what he termed “anachronistic laws,” adding, “In a lot of ways, government hasn’t caught up with technology. We have to set policies and pass laws that allow technology to flourish.”
Other headache-inducing issues for Qualcomm and other locally-based global firms are strict post-911 immigration policies that prevent the world’s best and brightest minds from coming to San Diego – and staying.
Said Jacobs: “The world still comes here [but] then they go back because we don’t let them stay.” He added that top executives of overseas firms often encounter roadblocks to freely traveling to San Diego for business.
“They say, ‘Look, if you don’t want me here, then I’m not gonna come. Why should I do business with you?’” he said. “It’s a perfect storm of really stupid policy.”
Added Lucier: “The problem isn’t with students coming to the United States. The issue is, they’re not staying here once they get a degree.”
One surprising theme focused on an oft-heard complaint among local commuters: snarled traffic around Qualcomm’s lineup of buildings on Sorrento Mesa.
Qualcomm likely won’t build another facility in San Diego because of worsened traffic in recent years, said Jacobs, citing Austin, Texas as a possible alternate locale. “We’re having employees being forced to leave early because of the traffic. It’s a loss-of-productivity issue.”
Peters assured Jacobs that he would look into the matter with local officials.
—John B.B. Freeman