People — their skills and ideas — are the ultimate renewable resource. Society’s ability to transfer information across large distances has grown exponentially, but face-to-face personal interactions remain crucial to the transmission of knowledge. (Knowledge and information are not the same!) The dropping cost of communication and transportation has contributed to an increase in the mobility of highly-skilled people, and new patterns of mobility have emerged, producing important social consequences and fascinating policy challenges.
The U.S. remains at the center of the global high-skill mobility system, although that system is changing rapidly. To shed light on a key aspect of the knowledge diffusion and technological innovation processes, GMU colleage Zoltan Acs and I conducted a major study of the role of foreign-born entrepreneurs in the U.S. high-technology industry. Our top-line finding is that about 16% of the country’s high-tech firms count at least one foreign-born entrepreneur in their founding team. These entrepreneurs come from all over the world (53 countries in our sample), and the vast majority are deeply rooted in the U.S. We released the study a 2011 workshop that I organized at the Brookings Institution.