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BBA Economic Digest: The Proof is in the Vaccine

Proof is in the Vaccine

I've long believed that immigrants are the lifeblood of America. The development of COVID-19 vaccines proves it.

The scientists and entrepreneurs creating the vaccines are of many nationalities and immigration statuses. The two pharmaceutical companies now distributing vaccines here in the United States were founded by immigrants.

The U.S.-based company Pfizer was founded by an immigrant from Germany, Charles Pfizer. Its current CEO is an immigrant from Greece, Albert Bourla.

Moderna's founders include immigrants from Canada and Lebanon, and the CEO is from France. The Lebanese co-founder of Moderna is Noubar Afeyan, who received a Ph.D. in biochemical engineering from MIT while on a foreign student visa.

He was able to stay and continue working in the U.S. on an H-1B visa—a visa for high-skilled workers that President Trump has repeatedly attempted to ban from the country. He is now a U.S. citizen.

According to data compiled by the New American Economy Research Fund, immigrants account for nearly 25 percent of all workers in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing nationwide, as well as more than a quarter of all physicians.

You've heard the old saying that proof is in the pudding. Well, in this case, the proof is in the vaccine.

Creating Superminds

Economic opportunity happens through the development of skills. It's a reoccurring theme of mine.

A report last week from MIT validates what I've been shouting from the rooftops. It represents the single most important thing that economic developers should be obsessed with -- enhancing computer skills from kindergarten through the university level, while urging businesses and educators to build cushions for the sometimes harsh changes artificial intelligence and automation will wreak on work. We may still be decades or more away from the development of AI that can do everything humans can do, but as the technology continues to advance, workers will need help to get the most out of their new machine colleagues. The Task Force on the Work of the Future found whole-scale job loss isn't likely, and that "the most promising uses of AI will not involve computers replacing people, but rather, people and computers working together — as 'superminds.'" The catch: Just as AI is always improving by learning, human workers need to upgrade their skills to keep pace. Economic developers have to be the go-between between educators and the business community, two different tribes speaking two different languages if this is going to happen.

More Broadband Funding

The coronavirus relief package deal that Congressional leaders have agreed upon includes $7 billion in funding for additional broadband internet access. The move to remote learning and work has made broadband access essential for many families during the pandemic, at a moment when some still don't have access or can't afford it. The broadband funding includes a new $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit that will provide $50 per month for broadband for low-income families. The funding also includes: • $1.9 billion for "rip and replace" efforts to remove Huawei and ZTE equipment from U.S. networks. • $1 billion in grants for Tribal broadband programs. • $300 million for rural broadband deployment. • $285 million that will in part fund a pilot program to help with broadband issues for communities around historically Black colleges and universities. • $250 million for the Federal Communications Commission's telehealth program. • $65 million to improve broadband mapping.

Buying Talent

There are an increasing number of communities around the country that are offering, in essence, bounties to attract talent. Now add to the list Natchez, Mississippi.

The city will pay individuals up to $6,000 plus $2,500 in relocation costs if they purchase a property in Natchez while working from home.

“The City of Natchez, Adams County, Visit Natchez and Natchez Inc. are all working together on something that will bring new life to Natchez and remote workers who have lost the luster for large cities and would rather be domiciled here in our jewel of a town,” said Mayor Dan Gibson.

Some of these talent-buying programs have proven so popular that they’ve had to stop taking applications. Vermont’s New Worker Relocation Grant Program said in October that it was “fully subscribed” and waiting to see if state lawmakers would add more funding in January.

Here are several more examples of communities paying bounties for talent.

Tulsa, Oklahoma is offering new residents $10,000 and a membership at a co-working space. The program intends to attract “a diverse group of talented professionals across multiple industries” to the city. The ideal applicant has a full-time job but can work from anywhere. To be eligible, individuals must be 18 or older, live outside Oklahoma, be able to work remotely, and be able to move to Tulsa within six months.

The Northwest Arkansas Council offers remote workers $10,000 plus a bicycle to move to Benton and Washington counties. The Council aims to attract science, technology, engineering and mathematics professionals to the area in order to “build a richer long-term talent pipeline” to support the region’s economy. To be eligible, future residents must be at least 24 years old, have at least two years of work experience, be employed full-time, live outside Arkansas and be able to relocate there within six months.

Topeka, Kansas is offering as much as $15,000 to new residents of Shawnee County. The program matches employer funds to pay $10,000 to new residents who are renting or $15,000 to new residents who purchase a home in the city in order to help it grow. For remote workers, the program will pay up to $5,000 to renters or $10,000 for a home purchase.

Do such programs work? Will they, in fact, up the game for communities and create positive economic development ripple effects? Well, I think the jury is still out on that, but I commend these communities for at least trying.

A Great American

Any doubt that Dolly Parton is one of the greatest living Americans was erased last month when she turned up as the only individual on the list of funders who helped support the development of Moderna's successful COVID-19 vaccine. Parton has worked on many philanthropic endeavors. She helped reduce dropout rates from 35 percent to 6 percent for 7th- and 8th-graders in her home county of Sevier County, Tennessee, by promising to give each student $500 if they finished high school. She launched the Imagination Library in 1995 to mail free books to children from birth until they start school. In March 2018, Imagination Library mailed its 100 millionth book. Her My People Fund gave $1,000 per month to families who lost their homes to the wildfires in the Great Smoky Mountains in 2016. Former President Obama said not giving Parton the Presidential Medal of Freedom was "a screwup." "That's a mistake. I'm shocked," Obama told Stephen Colbert on CBS’ "The Late Show" when asked why Parton hadn't received the award. "She deserves one. I'll call Biden."

Remember This?

Don't get me wrong, I like teleconferencing and use it practically every day. I like being able to see someone's face when having a conversation. It seems we're a bit closer.

That said, "Zoom fatigue" is real, and there are times when a simple phone call will do the trick." The humble phone call" is making a comeback for workers in search of a "happy medium between Zoom and instant messages," said Krithika Varagur at The Wall Street Journal.

Phone traffic has unexpectedly shot up during the pandemic as many workers have rediscovered its benefits for "one-on-one conversations." Many offices are growing increasingly frustrated with videoconferencing and "unexpected guests, exasperating muting, frozen screens, and the open invitation for strangers to judge your virtual backdrops."

Workers have also grown tired of staying in place for hours as they stare straight ahead at a computer screen. Even the "infamously phone-phobic Millennial generation" has been gravitating away from the "Zoom zeitgeist," the Journal reports.

The phone call. Try it. You just might like it.

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