Magazine

James Goodnight


Founder and CEO, SAS, a Cary (N.C.) software maker

The most important thing is to try to get the economy rolling again. Exactly how do you do that? Whether it's through some additional stimulus package or tax cuts, which puts money back in people's hands, I think that's the No. 1 outstanding issue. I think Congress and the new President need to be very careful about how they go about that. They can end up wrecking things very easily, like what happened during the Great Depression when money was tightened down. Credit was tightened down. Barriers were thrown up to protect the country. All of these things created a disastrous depression.

I think Hank Paulson has done a great job at Treasury. Hank is probably one of the few individuals who has spent enough time in the financial markets to understand them really well, so I'm just glad we had someone like Hank in charge to take over.

This whole idea of the Colombian Free Trade Act—[there is] every possible benefit to the United States to be able to export more to Colombia because Colombia is going to take down all of their tariffs that they have against us. For the life of me, I don't see how anyone can argue that it's bad for the U.S. But that's one issue [in this economy] that probably will not be touched. It's a small example. Anything we can do to help increase U.S. exports would create jobs here in the U.S.

The Bailout

I don't want to see them do a whole lot more for a while. I would say let's do the bank bailout, but because the price of oil has dropped so much, the dollar has gotten much stronger now... Let's give this thing a few months. You've got the bank bailout. They're talking about another set of stimulus checks. Remember all this stuff is just putting us more and more in debt. We probably created enough debt for our grandchildren already. We ought to really take a look at slowing it down. What I would like more than anything else is a reduction in the size of our government. The huge number of people the government employs and all the programs that they have, quite a lot of them are a waste of money.

Education

I was amazed, at preparing for this little moderator job I did last week [between education advisers/aides for both the McCain and Obama campaigns], I went to the Education Dept. home page. Their budget this year is $68 billion. For No Child Left Behind, it's $17 billion. And that program doesn't really do much other than the testing aspect. I'm sitting here thinking, $17 billion. You know what you could do with $17 billion? You could buy every high school student in this country a laptop computer. That would come to around $17 billion. There are approximately 17 million high school students, and for $1,000 a piece you could give them each a computer. And also have a few hundred dollars left over to help wire the schools.

[After the economy, education] needs to be second [on the next President's agenda]. There's no question about it. Every day we delay educating our children, the more dropouts are created, the less kids are prepared for a job or for further education. Somebody has got to realize how much money we can save in the long run if we keep our kids in school, keep them interested in school. ... If we can find a way to do that, we're going to save billions of dollars in our court systems, our legal systems, our prison systems. We've got to keep kids interested in school.

Last week, I spoke to all the superintendents right here in the Triangle, 115 school superintendents in the state of North Carolina. I mentioned to them about the laptops. I said, "Do you realize if we could just drop No Child Left Behind for just one year"—and I had to wait for the applause to go down because they were all applauding, the superintendents hate it—"[we could] give the kids the tools they need in school, not just a test at the end of the grade. We could give them the actual tools they need to improve their grades, to improve their level of interest." I talk about the use of laptops in school because I've had many years of experience at Cary Academy [a private school Goodnight funded]. We've also got eight of our high schools here in North Carolina that have one-to-one laptop initiatives for the kids. Some of the results are just amazing. Already, dropouts are way down, discipline problems are way down, the teachers love it because it puts all the resources of the world at their fingertips. They don't have to send kids to the library to do research on a subject where there are only one or two books on the subject.

Quite frankly our postsecondary system, our university system, is one of the best in the world. If you list the top 25 colleges and universities in the world, over 20 of them are here in the U.S. But our K-12, we've got to find a way to graduate closer to 100% of our kids in high school, instead of 69%, which is where we are right now. ... If we're going to keep No Child Left Behind, we absolutely need growth models, where we can measure the growth of each child. In each class, it shows whether or not that child is growing at the rate they should, rather than did they pass the bar. The question is the ones that are excellent students, we want to make sure they stay excellent by making sure that the teacher is paying attention to them, not just the slowest performers.

Visas/American Competitiveness

We as a country should be trying to attract the best and brightest minds from around the world. The current Administration's attitude is we don't want them here. We want to get rid of them as quickly as possible. So when we have, I think, over 50% of our PhDs in this country from other countries, when they get their PhD, we ask them to leave very quickly. We don't want you to hang around, because we won't issue enough visas to allow them to stay. Countries like Canada have a policy of welcoming foreign people with PhDs and highly trained workers, whereas for some reason our country doesn't want them anymore.

Either get rid of it entirely or at least quadruple it. Apr. 1 this year was H-1B visa opening day, with 85,000 positions and 135,000 applicants. If we're going to be an innovative country, innovation is most likely going to come from your most highly educated people—people working in computer science, biopharmaceutical areas, in all the high-tech areas. Now I would hope at some point we can graduate enough of our own students, but we're doing terrible right now. We don't have enough math and science and engineering, we call them the stem skills, our kids aren't really much interested in that anymore.

When I was in junior high school, middle school as they call it now, the Soviets put up Sputnik. That woke this country up. We've got to really encourage kids to get into these areas, and it happened. Huge amounts of money and resources [were put] into all levels of schools to encourage math and science and engineering. If you look back at Silicon Valley, that's pretty much where Silicon Valley got started. We need to have programs, whether it be advertising programs or additional funding to the schools, for math and science. We've got to get our kids back interested in math, science, and engineering. Otherwise, right now a lot of our goods are made in China and India, they're going to be designed and engineered there if we don't get rolling on getting more engineers and scientists in this country. Any way we can do it, we need to do it. China is outproducing us in engineers and scientists; so is India.

What do you want, do you want a service country where all [we] do is service and look after service stuff, we don't invent stuff anymore? We have to import everything? That's what's going to happen if we don't get our kids better-educated, if we don't try to hold on to every scientist and engineer that graduates in this country, and if we don't actively try to import more scientists and engineers into this country. This country is getting weaker and weaker and weaker, year by year, and nobody in Washington seems to be concerned about it.

Global companies are global. They are not restricted to using the talent just in one country. They can use it wherever it exists. And so much of the talent today is being grown in China and India. They've got a lot more population than we do, those two countries have 10 times the population of the U.S. We're going to have to fight to keep our place in the world, and we can't do that without the highly educated workforce that we need.

[The first priority is] to get today's economy rolling. But then you've got to worry about tomorrow's economy, next year's economy, and that takes talent. We need the talent to come in, we need to create it ourselves, and we need to bring it in to enhance what we have. Without that, the economy's probably going to keep needing to be fixed every few years because we're losing our edge in the talent race. That needs to be recognized as part of any economic stimulus. It's good to get people back to work as soon as possible, but then what happens the next time the plant closes, because the engineers designed something in China and they designed it for Chinese people to make it? That's going to keep happening, it's going to keep continuously happening until we get more PhDs in this country, until we try to keep the ones that are graduating from college.

Energy

They've already renewed the tax credits for wind and solar. There's not a lot more they can do other than create some multibillion-dollar project to undertake alternative energy. As the price of oil continues to fall and our gas prices are less than they were a year ago, all of a sudden that's going to disappear as something important. It needs to stay up there on top of the list of important things, but you know how things are. When the price goes down, it's going to disappear.

Health Care

Clearly, health care, this is a problem that we need to face. ... The idea of trying to make sure everybody has insurance—what are you going to do if somebody doesn't have insurance, put them in jail? It's not an easy fix. It's not a quick fix. We need to go very slowly as they tackle that particular problem. Let's take it one step at a time, not try to overhaul the entire system at once.

I think it would be good to have maybe some statewide pool that anybody out of work or between jobs could get health coverage through an organization. Preferably, [it would] use existing organizations like Blue Cross Blue Shield. They cover probably half the people in North Carolina already. We have insurance companies—Aetna, all these others that do this already—we don't need a federal government bureaucracy to do it. We've got companies already in place that can provide the coverage, it's just a question of funding. I would like to see a lot of these insurance companies funded by the government for any uninsured people they cover. Give these professional providers that are already getting big discounts from hospitals, let them do the work. Set up a pool of coverage for everybody that is not covered, but let the government pay for it. Split the cost between the federal, state, and local, like it's done with Medicaid right now.

The biggest use I see of technology [in health care], something that would be incredibly great for this country but which probably will not happen, would be a national health-care database. Every single person in this country, their entire medical records are kept in one central location on one enormous computer system. The reason I say that is because there is so much data that we could glean from a system like that [SAS makes software that could analyze such data]. We could spot clusters where people were getting cancer, or maybe clusters where they weren't getting cancer. It would be great for medicine, but there's too many concerns about privacy issues. Privacy is funny, somehow we trust our medical records in a manila folder more than we do on a national database, which really can be controlled.

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