In Arizona – Education is now an Option

If you’d like to see an example of the extreme “no taxes” political persuasion – you need to look no further than Arizona.

In Arizona taxes are evil, for years our politicians have built their reputations on one simple idea – taxes kill growth, so let’s not have any. They’ve perpetuated a myth… and now we are going to pay for it.

Arizona is full of people and companies that are here for one reason – they don’t want to pay taxes. Our economic structure is built on developers putting up planned communities and strip malls. Our tax base is based on people buying all the things they need to fill their new McMansions. The problem is, that model isn’t sustainable – never has been. An effective government would have begun making the investments years ago to allow our economy to smoothly transition from population growth to a sustainable industry based model.

Instead our government (and quite frankly, we) ignored a simple reality – you can’t build a sustainable economic base on a foundation of tax cuts.

Sustainable economies don’t occur by magic – and much of what is required by companies will never be invested in by those companies:

  • Education
  • Public Infrastructure
  • The Arts

So here we are – and it is time to pay the piper. And for all the conservative bluster about not saddling the next generation with debt or higher taxes they will instead be saddled with something much worse – a woefully substandard education and with it hugely diminished lifetime earnings.

While I do not believe that money alone can solve the problems we see in the state’s education system – I also know that reducing school funding to roughly the level of high quality daycare won’t result in better educated citizens.

And sadly, Arizona has already reached rock bottom – 50th in the US in graduating high school seniors going on to higher education, 50th in the nation in education spending, bottom third of US in high school graduation rate.

Now, it is time for the next round of cuts – and (no surprise here) education leads the way:

  • Reduced Funding for Charter Schools
  • Elimination of “non-Formula” K-12 Programs
  • Elimination of all day Kindergarten
  • Reduce funding to 2005-2006 levels
  • Elimination of Building Renewal funding

Link to Govenor Brewer’s Budget Proposal

What does all this mean? No art, no gifted programs, no music, closing charter schools, no restoration of dilapidated schools, all day kindergarten eliminated.

The worst part is, there will be more to come. Why? Because our elected representatives do not have the moral character required to admit that you can’t sustain anything on a platform of:

  • Times are Good!!! Lower Taxes!
  • Times are Bad!!! We can’t Raise Taxes!

At some point you hit the logical limits of that line of thinking – and we are there. It is time for the citizens of Arizona to realize that there is no sustainable future for this state (or our country) if we fail to invest in the future. There is no more important investment than an investment in our children’s education.

As the owner of an Arizona Based business – and as a father, I am happy to pay more taxes in order to ensure the education of our states children. Sure, I could just spend my money on my kids – send them to private schools, but that doesn’t improve our state or our nation. Essentially it will just allow my children the opportunity to one day leave Arizona for a college or a job that is appropriate for them.

It is time for all of us to start thinking about the future. It is time for us to demand our local and state governments implement sound taxation policy (the temporary sales tax increase is a band-aid and a poor one at that). In short, it is time for Arizona to grow up…

Arizona – Entrepreneurship Is NOT the Problem

People make a lot of noise about what is wrong with Arizona – and specifically our ability to start and sustain technology companies. Most of it is pointless blather and pompous windbaggery – here is why:

The problem is we have too many people who want to be the expert, advance their point of view or prove how freaking smart they are instead of doing one of the only three things that will change it:

  • Found a Technology company in Arizona
  • Invest in an Arizona Technology Company
  • Engage in making changes in our Public (because that’s all we’ve got) education system

Everything else is noise.

I admit I have not read the entire report from the Milken Institute entitled Charting a Course for Arizona’s Technology-Based Economic Development but I’m willing to bet the phrase “creative class” never appears once. You know what does?

Arizona actually ranks 3rd in the country for number of business starts per 100,000 people; it also places 12th for the percentage of business births in the high-tech sector. But too many high-tech firms fold or leave the state, and Arizona has only five firms ranked in Deloitte and Touche’s Fast 500 company list. Addressing human capital concerns and increasing access to venture capital would jumpstart the right kind of long-term development.

I’ll bet you didn’t see that one coming. How about:

Perhaps the single greatest threat to Arizona’s high-tech future is the fact that the state does not develop and retain enough skilled technicians, scientists, and engineers. In terms of sheer numbers, Arizona seems to produce sufficient graduates in science and engineering, but many are foreign-born and therefore more likely to return home, either due to preference or to a limited number of available work visas.

Shocking – our Universities actually produce “sufficient graduates”. Or my personal favorite:

Arizona will clearly be on the right track when it achieves solid gains in the indicators measuring whether local high-tech growth outpaces the national average; in recent years, it has fallen behind in these measures.

I defy anyone to tell me they are shocked by this or fundamentally disagree with that finding.

The problems, and their solutions, have been obvious for years:

  • We need a robust public/private R&D partnership
    • We get private organizations and companies openly bashing our Educators and Institutions without making any attempt to partner with them and create systemic change.
    • We get Universities who blatantly attempt leverage “incubators” as a source of revenue.
  • We need an active investor class
    • We get realestate investors who have no affinity with technology looking for a guaranteed 4% (to replace their realestate investments).
    • We get pay to pitch events, endless gatekeeper organizations, and every imaginable mechanism possible to keep actual investors from talking to actual founders.
  • We need jobs for the quality Math, Science and Engineering students our Universities churn out.
    • We get organizations who complain about how much our Higher Education System sucks – and watch the best and brightest they turn out go to CA, UT, OR and NM
    • We get a legislature that thinks shipping in University students from overseas/out of state is a great way to reduce education costs borne by the state.

We are failing – across the board, by any measure EXCEPT our ability to plan events, talk, point fingers and sit on the sidelines doing nothing.

We don’t have an entrepreneurship problem – we are 3rd in the nation for new companies and 12th for technology companies – we have an attitude problem.

It is time to drop the “it happens my way or I’m not playing” attitude and start engaging – across organizational, belief, strategy and ideological lines to generate results.

Because I swear to you – as a Founder of a Arizona based Technology Company – the next organization that spouts off about how “we’ve got it all right and everyone else is stupid” will earn my wrath.

Found, Invest, Engage or Shut Up.

Innovation & Academia? – ASU Startup Weekend

There is a certain pleasure in pointing out how poor a job academic institutions do instilling the kind of innovative/entrepreneurial thinking required in their graduates. But here is the million dollar question:

Beyond pointing at the problem, what exactly are YOU going to do to fix it.

Photo courtesy of lumaxart: http://www.lumaxart.com/
Photo courtesy of lumaxart: http://www.lumaxart.com/

For many the answer is a resounding “not my problem” or “it can’t be fixed”.

You may be a student, member of faculty, a member of “industry”, or just a part of the larger community – regardless of your place in this there are a few things you need to know. Here they are.

First, it is on you. No one is going to do it for you, you can’t wait on someone else to make it happen. If you want more innovative and entrepreneurial thinking from the graduates of your school or your local university you must get involved.

No one gets an opt out. There is no pass that allows the business community to sit back and wait for the Academics to deliver the results. If you do, it will cost you money and time to develop these graduates into what you need.

Students don’t get to sit back and wait on their teachers/professors to make it a required part of the curriculum. The old song “it wasn’t on the syllabus” just won’t cut it.

Professors and teachers can’t wait for standardized tests and acceptable best practices to begin instilling innovation and entrepreneurship into their classrooms. You want your students to be more innovative – innovate!

This isn’t about checking the box. And it certainly isn’t about getting a diploma. That is – frankly – the easy part. Take the right classes, show up every day, take notes, do some occasional studying and you’ll get your diploma. You’ll have checked the box. It isn’t about graduation rates either – and here is why.

Second, it isn’t optional. Innovation and entrepreneurship are not optional. The world has changed. You are not going to graduate and get a job at Intel, work there 30 years and retire with a fat 401k, pension, and health benefits. Odds are you’ll change careers at least 5 times. More than likely you’ll be looking for a new job every 3 years or so. And by the time you are on your 3rd job (about 8 years or so out of college) no one (and I really mean NO ONE) is going to care that you have your diploma – you’ll have to have it, but it won’t make even the smallest difference in weather or not you get or keep the gig. Why? Because anyone can show up and check the box.

I’ve hired a lot of people over my 15 years in business (and technology), and I’ve never said to myself “I’m looking for someone who can check the box.” If what you are selling is showing up every day and checking the box, I’m not interested.

In the last 15 years I’ve seen a transformation – from employees who show up and do the basics being valued to those same employees being “managed out”. They aren’t wanted. We want the employees who are able to see outside the what is and look for what could be. We are looking for the innovators.

In this new world where you are either getting a gig, improving your gig, or getting the next gig you had better understand a thing or two about entrepreneurship. You are your own company – and it will be up to you to run You LLC effectively. Everything from deciding what the product is (what skills are you learning), to choosing the right partnerships (who are my mentors), to selling your product (getting a gig), to maximizing revenues (negotiating salaries) is your responsibility. You are an entrepreneur – like it or not.

This is the environment we are preparing graduates for. This is their reality.

Third, do something – TODAY.

You should be doing something about this every day. Weather you are in the business community, a member of faculty, or a student. You need to ask yourself every single day. How am I preparing myself and helping prepare others for this reality?

I suggest you start here. Go – right now – to the ASU Startup Weekend site. If you are an ASU Student register right now. If you are a member of the business community, volunteer to mentor the student startup teams by emailing Dr. Kevin Gary (kgary at asu.edu). If you are a member of ASU faculty get the flyer and hang it up in your classroom; offer you students extra credit for participating.

I’ll see you there, April 24th and 25th. Come find me and we’ll talk.

Education in Arizona – The Cuts to Come

This is for all of my friends in Arizona.

As you may be aware the Arizona State Legislature has proposed to cut $1.5 billion from education budgets over the next year and a half. That is a 20% cut for K-12 and a 30% cut for higher education. Arizona currently ranks 49th in per student spending for K-12 education and 35th for spending on higher education.

These cuts will sacrifice our future – they will in the words of Michael Crow, ASU President “give Arizona a Third World education and economic infrastructure.”

I encourage all of you to visit speakupnowaz.org and send a letter to your state representatives informing them of the error they are considering and your full displeasure with it.

I’ve included the letter I sent this morning:

Dear Arizona Legislator,

As a veteran of Silicon Valley technology companies; and as a entrepreneur in Chandler; and as a father of two elementary school children; and as a dedicated proponent of Arizona and the Valley of the Sun; and as a committed partner of ASU; I’d like to inform you that cutting Arizona’s education budget at this moment in time – is both ill advised and exceptionally short sighted.

I’ve been an Arizona resident for more than 15 years. During that time I’ve worked for Silicon Valley technology companies as both a consultant and an executive. I know first hand that Arizona has lost major offices (specifically data centers) from several of these companies due in large part to the state of our education system. I have refused lucrative job offers in Silicon Valley because I believe that Arizona is capable of producing great technology talent and companies. I’ve committed to Arizona – I continue to wonder why our State officials refuse to do the same.

Phoenix has a single major university. Every major metropolitan area of equal size has many more. Our K-12 per student funding is 49th in the nation. Is it really any wonder that the only way we can sustain growth is via construction? While that may have been a viable approach in the past, it will no longer work. We must begin the process of transitioning from a boom and bust real estate market to building the competencies that can and will – with your support – transform our economy to a vibrant and lasting technology base.

Please understand, low taxes alone are not enough to attract and retain these businesses. They require well educated workers – workers they do not have to import. Workers who want to be in Arizona because they can raise their children here with the confidence that our education system will not fail them. Workers educated right here in Arizona.

While I understand that there are tough decisions to be made, we can not continue to sacrifice our future for the expediency of today. Tough choices will need to be made. But understand this, cutting education funding is not an appropriate choice. Do this – cut education funding – and not only will you lose my vote, but you will lose my business, and my commitment to the state of Arizona.

Sincerely,

Brian T. Roy

Founder and President

cosinity

http://www.cosinity.com

602.635.1013

Update: January 22nd 2009 @ 11:20 AM AZ Time

Linda Lopez – The AZ State Senator for District 29 responded to my email as follows:

Thank you for your email regarding your concerns about proposed cuts in
the Senate and House Republican Appropriations Committees Chairmen’s
budget. I do not support these cuts. I know full well that because of
our current budget crisis there will need to be some strategic reduction
in funding in all areas of state government, including education.
However, the level of reductions that are being proposed will, in my
estimation, not only decimate education at all levels it will undermine
our ability as a state to recover from this economic situation. I
strongly suggest that you let the appropriations chairs, Senator Russell
Pearce and Representative John Kavanaugh, and the legislative
leadership, Senate President Bob Burns and House Speaker Kirk Adams,
know about your concerns. In addition, you must also contact Governor
Brewer and her staff and let them how upset you are with these
proposals.

I have been a long time vocal supporter of education at all levels,
preschool through university. It is the bedrock of our state and our
country. We shortchange education at our own peril.

Sincerely,

State Senator Linda Lopez
District 29

Update: January 22nd 2009 @ 11:49 AM AZ Time

Frank Pratt – The AZ State Representative for District 23 responded as follows:

Thank you for sharing your concerns. We are taking any proposed budget
cuts to education very seriously.

Very truly yours,

Frank Pratt
State Representative
District #23

Frank – that is a very political response. I assure you I take your votes on this matter very seriously.

Something that Actually Matters

Sometimes we think things matter – like Chris Brogan writing a paid blog post, or Steve Jobs pulling out of Mac World – and then you read something like this and realize… it doesn’t. This does…

As some of you know I have an affiliation with ASU Polytechnic. I sit on an advisory board (DEAC) and my company (cosinity) is sponsoring a project with the engineering and business schools.

Today I received an update via the DEAC website – and while I do not like reposting entire posts from other sites… I’m doing it here:

Folks,

I was touched by a sad but hopeful email I received from Barbara Janecka the other day about a former student of ours, Casey Kelso. Please read below, and if you or your organization find it in your hearts in this giving season to help in some way, I am sure Casey would appreciate it. Flyer is also attached.

— KG

***

Hi Friends,

Casey Kelso, one of the most amazing people I’ve had the fortune of knowing, was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer this past September. The diagnosis came while he was living and working in Brisbane, Australia.

Casey is an extremely active guy (biking, climbing, hiking,

backpacking…) and had previously been diagnosed with a hamstring injury and instructed by his doctor in Arizona to lay off activities that bothered the injury and continue those that did not. This went on for almost 2 years, without much improvement. While he was in Brisbane, the pain worsened and he went to a GP who instructed him to refrain from all physical activities for 5-6 weeks. Well, during that time, the pain drastically increased. He went back to the GP, who then ordered an x-ray. The x-ray revealed a chunk of bone missing in Casey’s ischium.

The GP referred Casey to an orthopedic surgeon and the ball began rolling from there.

Casey cut his time in Australia short to return to the states and get treatment. Since then, he’s had two biopsies, both of which showed cells consistent with a rare type of cancer called leiomyosarcoma.

Unfortunately, both biopsies were also not definitive and therefore the exact treatment path has not always been well defined. Currently he is being treated with chemotherapy and will eventually undergo surgery to remove the tumor.

Now, the real frustrating part. Casey is a software engineer, gainfully employed with full medical benefits. He is super smart and a very hard worker. After receiving his first round of chemotherapy he was informed that his medical insurance will not be paying for his chemo treatments.

Unbelievable! Thus far, Casey has been paying as he goes for his chemo treatments.

A good friend of Casey’s, Mark Stiles, has set up an account at Wells Fargo in Casey’s name to help offset the growing medical expenses that are being incurred. The account number is 7987669137. Additionally, the Phoenix Rock Gym (in Tempe, AZ) has graciously donated their facilities on Sunday, January 11, 2009 between 7 and 10 PM. They will waive all entrance fees for this time period (day pass = $11.00, day pass with gear = $16.00). Instead, donations can be made to help Casey out during this most challenging time. All proceeds will go to Casey’s cancer account. Many local businesses have donated items to be raffled off as well as some bigger ticket items that will be auctioned. Please see attached flier for more details about Climb 4 Casey day at PRG.

Let me just say again what a tremendous individual Casey is.

Seriously. He will go out of his way to help anyone. He has a huge heart and he needs our help. Casey has multiple circles of friends, some overlapping, others not. I am positive that my limited email address list has barely scratched the surface of Casey’s friends. Please feel free to forward this email to all the friends I know I’ve missed!

BTW, you do not have to have any climbing experience to come out for this event. The staff at PRG will get you all set up with shoes and gear and show you the ropes!

If you are able to help in any way, please do. If you are a lawyer specializing in dealing with Medical Insurance, please help.

Flyer with more information.