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EA's Riccitiello Offers Policy Suggestions For Encouraging U.S. Tech Jobs

EA's Riccitiello Offers Policy Suggestions For Encouraging U.S. Tech Jobs

September 22, 2011 | By Kyle Orland

At a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce today, which Gamasutra listened in on, Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello offered a vision for how changes in immigration, education and tax policy could help support the high tech sector and the economy as a whole.

After offering a "sincere debt of gratitude" to the Chamber for its support in the recent Supreme Court decision on First Amendment protections for games, Riccitiello launched into a discussion of how EA and the technology industry in general have weathered catastrophic change and come out stronger.

The "explosion of cheap powerful broadband computers consolidated into a network" has quickly disrupted and transformed many industries, from newspapers to movies to video games, Riccitiello pointed out.

While that disruption has created some losers in certain slow-to-change companies and sectors, he said the new models that sprout up in their place "are often bigger, better and offer better jobs."

Other sectors of the economy and the government should embrace this kind of disruptive change, Riccitiello said, rather than tinkering at the margins and implementing half-measures. He went on to offer specific ways in which policy makers could help make the U.S. business environment more conducive to job creation.

First, Riccitiello said the U.S. should alter its immigration policy to allow the world's most talented engineers and college graduates to work in the country. Despite higher wages and great benefits, Riccitiello said EA has trouble recruiting enough of the kind of talented engineers he needs in the U.S., because they are barred from working in the country.

For many of the best engineers Riccitiello comes across, since "they can't work at my company here, they will work at my company in Shanghai," he said. "We can't hire them in this country and so we literally hire them somewhere else. It is direct exportation of jobs."

Riccitiello offered his support for the Staple Act, which would effectively "staple" a green card to the back of any PhD granted to an immigrant graduating from a U.S. school, allowing her to work in the country.

The U.S. could also effect long-term change by refocusing education policy. Many of the 5,000 engineers Riccitiello said EA will hire in the next decade are not in high school yet, and they will need to be especially strong in science, technology, engineering and math.

"The world is increasingly being divided into those who understand numbers and those who don't," Riccitiello said. While parents and educators should be encouraging students to study art, music and literature, they should be doing so only "after they understand their math homework," he said.

Lastly, policy makers could encourage job creation in the U.S. by altering tax policy. He took issue with a recent New York Times piece that suggested there was something wrong with the game industry taking advantage of tax breaks offered by various localities.

Corporations are "rational actors" he said, and "companies move to locations where they find agreeable tax treatment, and that's not going to change," he said.

The U.S. corporate tax rate is currently the highest of any of the 10 countries in which EA operates, save Japan, and that situation "encourages CEOs to export jobs... I hate to say this, but jobs go to the best economic environment."

Riccitiello pointed out Dublin as a relative haven, where the tax rate is half what can be found in the U.S. and the education and immigration policies create an environment where smart engineers from 30 or 40 different nationalities can come together to work, supporting the surrounding economy.

While saying that he "doesn't want to come off as a CEO coming in and giving orders," Riccitiello said we all have work to make sure the economy and job situation are as robust as they can be. He said he had enormous optimism for the country, and encouraged policymakers to embrace change and avoid getting entrenched in old ways of doing things.

"It's going to be scary, but we can do this," he said.

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