We Need "All Hands On Deck" to Activate a National Inclusive Competitiveness Movement

A recent New York Times and CBS News poll found that Americans increasingly believe just a few people at the top have a chance to get ahead in America today. The poll additionally revealed that most Americans feel we can do better with more even access to the nation's wealth.

These opinions span the breadth of our political spectrum, with the vast majority of Democrats and most independents agreeing that access to wealth should be more even, and Republicans being closely split.

Given these views, and considering the nation's vastly shifting racial and ethnic demographics, it is clear that America increasingly requires a serious policy transformation designed more fully to equip and empower all Americans, and especially our growing populations of Black and Latino youth, to capture our nation's best emerging economic opportunities.

Such a course change is vital to our long term economic competitiveness and success as a society; but it requires the participation and support of all Americans to take hold, not just those who live in poverty and economic exclusion or those who advocate for the disadvantaged. That is to say that more well-off Americans -- who have disproportionately benefited from the status quo -- too must embrace and own this agenda for the nation to thrive and succeed in the future ahead. To be sure, America needs an "All Hands on Deck" approach to economic policy.

The increasingly large field of candidates for the U.S. presidency should take note.

In the run-up to November 8, 2016, we need candidates who will call for comprehensive policy change to ensure that every American has a fair opportunity to compete and succeed in the Innovation Economy. Presently, all American hands are not on deck. We are not all able to seize 21st century opportunities. We are not all exploring new innovations and raising the nation's competitive position. This is a recipe for fleeting, episodic and narrow economic prosperity; not the broad and enduring kind we need.

To help underserved Americans connect and contribute to the Innovation Economy, and improve U.S. economic competitiveness, we need a more active and intentional federal policy that provides financial and other resources to:

• Invest in 21st century inner city economic narratives and entrepreneurial ecosystems. It is unreasonable to expect that underserved Americans will spontaneously begin to access opportunities emerging within the entrepreneurial ecosystems that exist within their respective geographical areas without first being exposed to economic competitiveness narratives and imperatives, and gaining a greater appreciation of the promise of job- and wealth-creating entrepreneurship. To date, little to no investment has been made in underserved communities to cultivate narratives and entrepreneurial ecosystems aligned with the Innovation Economy.

• Mobilize inner city and regional Innovation Economy assets. Underserved Americans have many untapped ideas, resources and potential to contribute to city and regional economic growth; but these assets urgently need to be activated and aligned with Innovation Economy priorities. Through strategic alliances and partnerships with larger mainstream businesses and institutions, as well as allied technical assistance, new systems can be created to help improve the productivity and contributions of diverse groups to the Innovation Economy.

• Connect underserved Americans to sources of angel investment and venture capital. Angel capital is the mother's milk of job- and wealth-creating, higher growth entrepreneurial enterprises. Unfortunately, minority angels, who are more likely to focus on underserved communities, account for just 4.5% of angel investors and women only 18%. It is imperative therefore that federal policy move to incent more responsive and inclusive venture capital flows in the years to come, such that multicultural business leaders and entrepreneurs have much greater access to start up and expansion funding.

The explosive, more than 30-year growth of our nation's venture capital industry is a direct result of the U.S. Department of Labor's interpretation of the Employment Retirement and Income Security Act (ERISA) that allows private and public-defined pension plans to invest money into private venture capital funds. Although these pension plans contain money earned by every kind of American, including the underserved, the private venture capital industry has shown little inclination towards equitable investment in minority-owned businesses. Following are some specific needed policy initiatives and reforms that can help to address this problem:
• Targeted federal income tax credits for angel investors to incent increased investment in underserved communities.
• Federal capital gains tax reductions, to incent high-net worth individuals to invest in venture capital funds directed to underserved markets.
• Require "good faith outreach efforts" to underserved markets for seed, early-stage and venture capital funds that receive private and public pension fund investments.

Achieving "All Hands on Deck" economic policy requires a much larger set of organizations and interests than purely governmental actors. We also need to hear from and activate K-12 and higher education, technology- and innovation-based intermediary organizations, the corporate and philanthropic sectors, leading venture capital sources, and communities themselves. Together, these groups can best advance federal Innovation Economy policy, strategies and practices that lift all boats.

However, there are few roles more singularly influential in shaping our next stage course as a nation than those now being advanced by the growing field of presidential contenders. Now is the time to press all of these presidential candidates to pursue a bold new course - an "All Hands on Deck" approach to American economic policy that will improve the productivity and performance of underrepresented Americans within the 21st century's Innovation Economy and fully activate a National Inclusive Competitiveness Movement.

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This article is the third in a series of three articles by Johnathan M. Holifield and Henry A.J. Ramos. Holifield is Architect of Inclusive Competitiveness and Co-Founder of ScaleUp Partners LLC. Ramos is the CEO of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development. Their articles focus on Inclusive Competitiveness - an interdisciplinary framework of policies, strategies and practices that can be employed to improve the productivity of underrepresented Americans in the Innovation Economy - and will feature new solutions and promising practices that are emerging to address these challenges and opportunities.

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Follow Henry A. J. Ramos on Twitter: www.twitter.com/henryajramos