Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content GUEST COLUMN: Colorado Springs should become the Silicon Valley of inventions

Ed Herlik Published: April 13, 2014

The Gazette's special section on economic development detailed many good initiatives - all aimed at doing more of the same while hoping for a different result. Don't get me wrong; we have very good people working very hard with the best of intentions. I'm writing to suggest it's time we add something a bit different.

Like so many other cities, we work hard to steal jobs from each other in a zero sum game that they play better than us. That's how we got to the mayor's point, " . the area has traded high-paying manufacturing jobs for positions in other sectors that generally pay lower wages." He's talking about primary verses secondary jobs.

Manufacturing is primary; service is secondary. Manufacturing something for export (out of the region) is primary in that the jobs create wealth. Skilled labor transforms low value raw materials into high value goods. Opening a brew pub or tanning salon for those workers is secondary in that it moves wealth around. We've degraded to a service economy with secondary jobs hoping tourists spend the primary job money they earned back home.

The economic development folks and various business incubators have been more successful with secondary jobs. Why? They're easier, which also means they're not as valuable, durable or as deeply rooted here. Think of all those call centers. They produce only service and are only as loyal as tax incentives and low wages allow.

So, I suggest, the problem isn't a lack of trained entrepreneurs or incubator space with wisdom from retired executives. The problem is that we don't build much of anything. What to do? Invent it!

Inventing is so fundamentally important to America's success that it's one of only two professions protected by our Constitution. Inventing creates primary jobs, fuels an export economy and creates wealth rather than just moving it around.

Inventors are expected to figure it out, build it, patent it, create companies, find money, manufacture stuff, ship it, sell it, pay people, pay taxes, maybe pay themselves, and repeat. That wasn't so hard when innovation was a better way to burn whale blubber. I can tell you from experience: it's nearly impossible these days. There are very good reasons American inventors create jobs in China and the Chinese steal American inventions.

There's no place for American inventors to go, no home. America depends on innovation to grow our 22nd century economy yet there's no equivalent to Silicon Valley for people who create stuff. Inventing is much broader than writing code, designing phones for Vietnamese factories or bioengineering drugs. It requires talent from just about all professions plus fabrication, shipping, sales and leadership. We have all of that except a place for inventors.

Let's open a conversation on how we can focus some of that entrepreneur and business development talent to create an Invention Incubator.

We should become the first nationally recognized city to build an incubator for inventors. Like Quirky.com with facilities and local talent, we should:

- Invite inventors to come here, or at least send their ideas.

- Connect them to business leaders, because inventors should never run a business.

- Invite businesses to send us their problems to be solved.

- Build teams around the best intellectual property that creates primary jobs.

- Introduce investors to the next big thing, invented here!

All for just the contractual guarantee that the new jobs stay within sight of Pikes Peak.

For that, we'll get:

- A place for our high-end analytical, engineering, science and prototyping talent to run wild.

-A place for our students to intern, our tradesmen to shine, our veterans to lead, our hands to build.

- A place for investors to make a lot of money.

- And extreme loyalty from inventors plus our kids, who help create their own good jobs and stay here.

Independent inventors can either make a kitchen gadget in the Philippines or sell out to the big guys. There's nothing in between and they're tremendously frustrated. Give them a home team and they'll flock here with contracts and loyalty.

We should be the Silicon Valley of inventions.

If we build it, they will come. Really. They will.

-

Ed Herlik has an engineering degree from the Air Force Academy and three patents with two more pending, has taught science, created Colorado jobs in technology forecasting and is creating more jobs with Vets4Biz.org.

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