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?
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."
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
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."
Peter Hayes, head of
municipal bond management team: "No, I don't think America is in decline. I think in some ways this recession has been good and that it has raised the awareness about the need to cut spending and the need for pension reform. We obviously saw a lot of growth in the '80s, '90s and early 2000s. A lot of that growth was created by leverage, and as a result of that growth, we saw a pretty significant increase in hiring across the country at the federal as well as at the state and local level.
"So what we are doing is we are actually unwinding some of that now from the excesses of the earlier economy. ... We are not going to grow at as robust a pace as you have seen in the past, so we do need to cut spending, we do need to initiate some type of pension reform and all the headlines, all of the negative publicity that surrounded municipalities over the past couple years has actually helped raise that awareness and it is making it easier to implement this type of reform and cut spending. So we don't think America is in decline."
CEO Ran Poliakine: This is "exactly what I was discussing the other day with our
partners," says Poliakane, who runs a closely-held developer of magnetic wireless device chargers. "Part of their 'new' strategy is aimed at achieving just this goal. To begin with, we need to regain consumer trust by being more responsive and investing more in breakthrough technology. Then we need to be more relevant to the larger global economy and consumers; a practice which may have been forgotten in the last 50 years."
(Germany) CEO Volko Löwenstein: "For decades, people talked about America being the biggest market for alternative energy, going back to the Carter administration and the oil crisis of the 1970s. Think about the Global 2000 report commissioned by the Carter administration in 1977, which dealt with issues like global warming. That awareness and rethinking about global energy problems has diminished over the past few decades, and the U.S. lost its leading position in alternative technology.
"European nations have invested heavily in infrastructure and a strong energy grid
Germany is the largest solar market in the world and it's been done at the level of the central governments. At the end of the day, though, I think the U.S. model will work. America is more profit-focused, and I don't mean that with a negative connotation. The European system with central governments leading the way may be quicker to the punch, but the American system of only supplying massive capital when it's possible to do it on a profitable basis could ultimately lead to a faster rate of adoption of alternative energy.
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