SALT LAKE CITY — For America to once again become the leading economic force worldwide, the country will have to invest heavily in the long-term success of small business.
Current government policy undermines the innovative spirit that made the country great, said Carly Fiorina, former chairman and chief executive officer of Hewlett-Packard.
She was the keynote speaker Wednesday at the Zions Bank Trade and Business Conference at the downtown Marriott. She said the federal government puts too many impediments in the way of small business growth and thereby stymies the potential for improving the nation's economic fortunes.
"It's critically important that we nurture the entrepreneurial foundation of our nation if we want to grow and compete (in the global economy)," said Fiorina.
She said there are more small businesses failing than starting in the last 40 years. Much of the problem, she said, stems from the overly complicated tax system and burdensome regulatory environment.
"We need to look at our tax code and look at our regulatory structure with small business in mind," Fiorina said. By simplifying tax and regulation, small firms will be able to focus more attention on innovation and help grow the economy, she added.
Too much power and influence today is wielded in Washington D.C. by big business and big labor, Fiorina said, to the detriment of "the little guys that make our economy go."
She also commented on the deficiency in the U.S. education system that lacks "quality" and "quantity" when compared to other industrialized nations.
"If we're falling behind in education, inevitably we'll fall behind in economic growth," she said. "So we must turn this around."
She said putting "a good teacher in a classroom" is the best place to start.
"We need more accountability in the classroom. We need to support really good teachers. We need to give parents a choice … if their child isn't being educated," Fiorina explained. She also said more emphasis should be put on getting more students interested in science, math, engineering and technology — especially minorities and young women.
Speaking to an audience of about 850 people on global competitiveness and innovation, Fiorina said energy, health, technology and aerospace are the four keys to future economic growth in America.
"Those are the industries that are going to define this century." Unfortunately, she said, the nation appears to be going in the opposite direction.
"From a policy point of view (and) a political point of view, we are not yet focused on leadership in those four areas," she said. "In some cases, we've made decisions that have set us back."
She said the federal government should steer away from creating policies that hinder growth and do more to take advantage of the nation's existing natural and intellectual resources.
Despite the challenges facing the country, Fiorina said the nation can regain its stature as a world leader in economics, education and innovation.
The most important things in (business growth) are sound judgment, common sense and strong ethics, Fiorina said. But to grow, we must be willing to adapt to the fast-moving technology environment.
"Change and success in this century requires equal measures of realism and optimism," Fiorina said. "We have to be realistic about what it takes now and the challenges that we face (as a nation). But optimism is a belief that things can be better … that people will rise to the challenge … that we do have the answers, and I am absolutely certain that we do."