CEDAR RAPIDS — Presidential hopefuls former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and former CEO Carly Fiorina championed innovation and entrepreneurship as keys to growing the American economy and creating new jobs.
However, the candidates — one a Democrat, the other a Republican — disagreed on the federal government’s role when they appeared separately at the Iowa Technology Town Hall in Cedar Rapids Monday.
The forum was hosted by the Technology Association of Iowa to foster a discussion of issues important to the technology industry including innovation, STEM education, broadband access and the promise of entrepreneurship.
Association President Brian Waller said the Iowa technology startup community includes more than 76,000 workers and accounts for 9 percent of the state’s GDP.
O’Malley and Fiorina acknowledged technology is a bright spot in the economy. O’Malley bragged that while he was governor Maryland was named the No. 1 state for innovation and entrepreneurship three years in a row by U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
During his two terms, which included the Great Recession, O’Malley increased education funding and stepped up STEM education STEM — Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
“Part of this innovation economy is to give our kids the ability to solve problems, to think conceptually, to work collaboratively,” he said.
Fiorina emphasized that because of her experience in the tech industry she ‘gets it.”
“Having led the world’s largest technology company, I know what it will take for America to lead in this realm,” she said. “We must have a president who understands technology — both as a tool and as a weapon.”
Although they agreed education is vital to continuing America’s leadership in innovation and technology, Fiorina and O’Malley saw different roles for the federal government.
“We need to put in place career and technical education in high school that actually give kids the skills they need to be innovators, to be entrepreneurs and actually fill the jobs being created in today’s knowledge-based and information economy,” O’Malley said, adding that the federal government can play a big role in that.
Fiorina was skeptical of a larger federal role. In the past 20 years, she said, the Department of Education has grown bigger and a variety of centralized bureaucratic program like Common Core and No Child Left Behind have failed to meet the needs of the tech industry.
Instead, she championed the approach of Hewlett-Packard, which went out in the community, including underprivileged schools to find students who were interested in learning about technology. They were offered mentorship, internships, college scholarship and, ultimately, jobs.
She called for putting more responsibility in the hands of local colleges and technical schools to identify the workforce needs and develop strategies to meet them.
“Everyone needs a helping hand,” she said. “We have the talent, but we have to invest in it.”