By: Alan Skontra
Well before Hurricane Sandy was even a thought in N.J., NJTechWeekly.com devised some questions for the two candidates running for Senate. Thanks to Alan Skontra and his hard work following up with the campaigns we now have answers. We are posting the material sent by each campaign as it was sent to us, unedited, so you can judge for yourselves. These answers came from Democratic incumbent Robert Menendez. ES
What role should the government play in supporting the IT industry in New Jersey?
The government plays an important role in the innovation ecosystem by funding critical basic research and development that provides our companies tremendous opportunities to apply and commercialize cutting edge technologies. Government funding should provide more opportunities for Americans to receive the education and training that a successful IT industry demands. Government can also play a significant role encouraging companies to invest more in research and to manufacture advanced IT products in America, and specifically, here in New Jersey.
2. As a current elected official, how have you used your position to fill that role?
I have supported resources for agencies like the National Science Foundation, the National Institute for Standards and Technology and the Department of Energy’s Office of Science that form the backbone of federal funding for research that, once commercialized, creates jobs and economic opportunities in the IT industry.
I have been fighting to prevent cuts to Pell Grants and I am working to make a permanent simplified tuition tax credit to help families afford college. Access to educational opportunities can provide the talent the IT industry needs.
I introduced the BEST for America’s Workforce Act, which would provide $1 billion for a competitive tax credit to encourage partnerships between businesses and colleges to train workers for jobs in demand now and provides a tax credit of up to $4,000 for the tuition costs at a community college to any business that is willing to train a long-term unemployed worker for an open job.
I've also introduced cybersecurity legislation to provide critical research and development funding and I've supported high skilled immigration in situations where there is no American available to fill a particular job to ensure that our companies have the workforce that they need.
I have been a strong supporter of making the R&D tax credit permanent. The piecemeal approach of one year extensions only dilute the effectiveness of the credit. I introduced bipartisan legislation to allow small high-tech startups to attract investment by allowing their investors to take advantage of R&D tax credits created by their efforts but which the company may not be able to take advantage of because they have not yet turned a profit.
3. If elected, what measures will you take to support the IT industry in New Jersey?
I would continue to fight for substantial investments in basic research, provide opportunities for education and training, and for policies to encourage companies to invest more in research and to manufacture advanced IT products in America. I would also continue to push for my cybersecurity legislation which would convene a university-industry task force to explore collaborative research, development, education, and training activities on cybersecurity. To keep our businesses operating in a secure environment, we should devote more research and development funding to cybersecurity.
4. What will you do to help IT employers hire more workers, and for the workforce to have the skills necessary to fill those jobs?
As I mentioned before, I introduced legislation to expand opportunities for American workers to get the retraining they need for jobs that businesses are looking to fill. My proposal would address the needs of businesses for skilled workers, the needs of individuals to get back into the workforce, and the needs of colleges to fund these important training programs. My legislation, bringing together businesses and community colleges to train Americans for open jobs is particularly helpful for the dynamic and rapidly changing nature of the IT industry.
I will also advocate for STEM immigration reform which would allow STEM students educated in American schools to work for American companies. Jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math (“STEM” fields) are increasing three times faster than jobs in the rest of the economy, but American students are not entering these innovative fields in sufficient numbers. As a result, by 2018, we face a projected shortfall of 230,000 qualified advanced-degree STEM workers. Giving companies access to the skills that they need will allow these businesses to grow and hire more American workers.
I will also continue to fight to prevent cuts to Pell grants which provide middle and lower-income families access to the higher education needed to be successful in the IT industry, as well as continue efforts to make a permanent simplified tuition tax credit for all families to use to help them with college costs.
5. Where do you see New Jersey's IT industry in five years and beyond?
New Jersey is, and has been, at the forefront of cutting-edge businesses. I believe New Jersey’s IT industry will continue to lead the nation and the world, so working to modernize our policies is a win-win for our state and our country. But I think how far we progress will in part be decided by the choices we make. Will we invest in research and a better educated workforce? Will we encourage companies to do research and produce cutting edge product here at home? Or will we cut these investments, provide trillions of dollars in tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires and hope some of that wealth trickles down? In my view, investing today in our nation’s intellectual infrastructure – our researchers, our scientists, our workers and our entrepreneurial small business talent - is the best way to guarantee that the high-paying jobs of tomorrow are created here in America. Simply put, investing in innovation is good for America and great for New Jersey. And nowhere will that be more apparent than in the IT industry.