American Innovation: The New American Century
The 20th Century marked a time of tremendous leadership for America. From our successes in World War I, World War II, and the Space Race, America stood atop the world, spreading technological and social change across the planet and into space. Our military was unrivaled, our engineering prowess unparalleled, and our culture unmatched. America embodied progress both at home and abroad, and our shores were “teeming with huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Today, in the aftermath of COVID-19, the challenge we face is in many ways unprecedented. Even the pandemic of 1918 does not quite compare because our world is now more connected and interdependent than ever before. Virtually every community and country has been touched by the coronavirus outbreak; it has caused systemic damage that requires both determination and cooperation to repair.
Recovering from COVID-19 will require ingenuity, determination, and innovation, all of which are the hallmarks of America. You can see those ingredients at work in our response to the pandemic. No other country in the world has matched America’s speed and success in the drive to get its population vaccinated.
The reopening of America is happening now because of the free market response to the challenge of creating a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. Government certainly played a role, but that role was to stimulate and support private businesses in identifying a solution to this historic challenge, and no fewer than three vaccines were developed, tested, and approved in record time.
Thinking beyond today, how do we meet the broader social, environmental, and structural challenges ahead? To start, America must maintain its leadership role on the global stage. The agility and adaptability of the United States economy and its workforce, in combination with the free flow of capital into market-based solutions, are just two of the reasons why the 20th century was the American Century. Entrepreneurship flourished in America in ways it never had before, anywhere in the world. Businesses were built and wealth was created on a lateral scale that was unimaginable in earlier periods in history. It was this dynamism that drove America’s ascendance, placing our country in a category of one as the home of creativity, innovation, and opportunity.
However, for too long the educational, financial, and practical support of entrepreneurs has been concentrated in the country’s largest metropolitan areas. These, typically, are the coastal cities, and this practice results in a self-perpetuating and increasingly narrow cycle of investment that disenfranchises the majority of the country. In order for America to continue to build on its legacy of innovation and leadership, we must support entrepreneurs everywhere, including and especially in our heartland.
At Rubicon, we recently chose to expand our presence in our home state of Kentucky with a brand-new office space in the center of downtown Lexington, and it will now serve as our company’s global headquarters. Given the state’s geographically central location, and that the city itself is Rubicon’s birthplace, Lexington was the most natural choice for us. But more than that, this move is a signal to our customers, our partners, and our employees that we are committed to supporting economic growth of communities everywhere, not just by what we do as a company, but by where we choose to operate. I encourage all entrepreneurs and leaders of innovative companies to ask themselves how they are giving back to the parts of our country that have been most impacted by their innovations. Are you finding ways to help build up communities other than those in the big, coastal cities? These are the places that need and deserve our investment, in every sense of the word, and it is incumbent upon us to actively seek out opportunities to do so, as these communities are absolutely critical to the next phase of American growth and leadership.
I believe world-changing ideas can come from anywhere, and fostering innovation is the central tradition of American business. This tradition is continuing right now as our country leads the world in reopening its economy following the pandemic. Companies across the country have endured one of the toughest periods in history and are now bouncing back with unmatched dynamism, enthusiasm, and creativity. America is leading by example as it has time and time again in the course of history.
One example of American innovation has been our race to explore space. In the 20th Century, the space program was dominated by the public sector, because no other source of capital can match the scale and scope of the United States government. Today, in the 21st Century, the free market has stepped in to carry the flag beyond the moon, potentially to Mars, and towards other economic uses of space. Companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin are picking up where NASA left off to solve pressing problems in space, harnessing American innovation and entrepreneurial drive.
While public investment is critical to economic expansion, the government should be an enabler and supporter of private business growth and its goal should be to let entrepreneurs do what they do best: identify persistent problems, understand the opportunities for innovation, and bring cutting-edge solutions to market to address them. Just as with the development and distribution of the COVID-19 vaccines, the government should direct capital towards opening doors, and then get out of the way for businesses to develop working solutions.
Rubicon itself embodies this tradition of entrepreneurship–a transformative company created not just to revolutionize a legacy industry, but one whose very reason to exist is to solve a problem: the accumulation of waste and its harmful by-products. Further, waste is a problem that is only going to grow more acute as time goes by, making Rubicon and our mission to end waste indispensable to the future health and security of our planet.
The American free market is the greatest driver of innovation in the history of the world. There is no reason why our tradition of leadership cannot continue–and expand–in the 21st Century.
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.com on June 7, 2021.