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Ask the CEOs: Is America in Decline?

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- What are America's corporate leaders saying about the issues of the day? TheStreet's reporters, during the course of their weekly coverage, will pose a thematic question to the business executives they interview.

This week's question:

Is America in decline?

TriQuint Semiconductor (TQNT) CEO Ralph Quinsey: "I think there's great opportunity in the world, and I think that countries are rapidly catching up, and, in some areas, overinvesting and outstretching the U.S."

Set against this backdrop, Quinsey would like to see America boost its efforts around high-speed Internet but remains confident of America's ability to innovate.

"I would love to see this country invest more in broadband infrastructure, but we still have the educational systems and the educational wherewithal to drive the world," he said. "I am confident with where we're going."

Westport Innovations (WPRT - Get Report) CFO Bill Larkin: "America is not in decline, but could lose ground to China. Natural gas is abundant [Westport manufactures natural gas engine technology] in the U.S., but China is taking the lead, and look at the pace at which they are moving. It's government-driven, and also involves lots of entrepreneurs -- and necessity. They need to find something as a backup to oil, and coal bed methane is abundant in China. I would say we are behind the curve.

"Obama ran on a platform of change, but change is not so easy when it comes to national energy policy. While governments in other countries have taken a more active role, incentives create confusion, also. Ultimately, you can't build a business off incentives. The low adoption rate of natural gas engines in the U.S. is either going to be a big market opportunity or a market that never happens. Ultimately, it's not energy independence and it's not national security that can drive this. It has to be a sound economic model, regardless of what's happening with the government. Fleet vehicles buyers know they need a competitive advantage when it comes to lowering fuel costs, but the lack of an existing natural gas refueling infrastructure and the initial capital hurdles have yet to be solved.

Fifth Street Finance (FSC - Get Report) CEO Len Tannenbaum: "I think that America as a place in the world is in decline -- in a relative place. I think America itself is expanding and going to do well. Because really, we're innovators. We're very adaptable people. And so what that means is we're seeing this in our companies. We have 55 portfolio companies. We see this across a variety of industries. The entrepreneur aspect of our CEOs -- that 'go get it' personality -- is really what drives America. So America will never go into decline; it may not expand as fast as the others, and that's clearly what we're looking at, too. Making sure we have the right international exposure, because the higher growth areas will be internationally."
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