Opinion

Bring Jobs Forward, Not Back

Inclusive innovation is our greatest tool to meet 21st century challenges

We are betting that Mountaintop, W.Va., has the opportunity to become the next Mountain View. Yesterday we announced a partnership with the Mountain State that could create 13,000 quality jobs and bring the region to the forefront of innovation. This announcement by Virgin Hyperloop is about bringing jobs forward, catching market transitions, forging partnerships with purpose and making real change that will benefit all citizens.

A new joint paper by the Harvard Kennedy School and Kellogg School of Management found that investment in innovation tends to generate greater social returns than private returns, and recommends that public policy encourage such investment. America needs to have a national digital innovation engine that embraces technology and the companies that are preparing now for the jobs of the future.

Virgin Hyperloop is the only company in the world that has successfully tested hyperloop technology at scale. Now, we have chosen West Virginia for our Hyperloop Certification Center.

The state emerged as the winner because real people came together to make change happen. We had engineers meeting with Gov. Jim Justice and other state government officials. We had key stakeholders meeting with senators from both sides of the aisle. We had West Virginia University helping to bring our vision of a new entrepreneurship and startup program to life, which will ultimately help workers upgrade their skills with a vocational and apprenticeship-based training approach. And now, we have a win-win situation, with Virgin Hyperloop betting on West Virginia — and West Virginia betting on us.

West Virginia stood out as a leader, showing its drive and determination to capitalize on transitions and work together to make dreams happen. We are creating a whole new ecosystem that is a true win-win, which is only possible when you have business focused on the good of the larger community. In order for enterprises to think big and bold enough to succeed in the 21st century, they have to innovate with local and federal government.

We have never stopped dreaming big to move our society forward as a whole. Now is the time to be proactive and for leaders to think about how they are going to continuously go where the market is going to go next, piquing investors’ interest with the unexpected.

In these last weeks, we’ve seen a terrible number of job losses in the private sector. Industries that were once slowly fading have been thrust into the spotlight, and digital acceleration is happening at a speed we haven’t seen since the Internet Age. In this environment, risk looks different. It is clear that it is risky not to invest in new technologies like hyperloop because the future of legacy industries is uncertain.

West Virginia recognized this and showed its ability to inspire hope for what is possible, underscored by technology advancements coming out of young startups based in the state, strong research and development expertise at local colleges and universities and a significant workforce of technologically advanced engineering and scientific talent.

For too long, America’s innovation engine has focused on a few key cities and states – Silicon Valley, New York and Texas. We share the belief that innovation, creativity and grit are unlimited resources that can be found in far more places than just the coasts or major cities. We need to invest in training people in Middle America, working with local universities to teach technology skills and the importance of entrepreneurship. What’s more, we need to keep those people around for the long run by making it easier to start a business, or even work from anywhere. West Virginia has amazing potential to become a replicable model for other states that have previously been left behind.

We need to bring every American into the future with us – but something else remains true today, too. We see too many young people not recognizing their own potential. When we had the space race, all of a sudden you saw children dream about reaching the stars. Likewise, touring a hyperloop center or meeting a levitation engineer will open your mind to the possibilities — to both children and investors alike. People are starting to realize that the future of business is in partnership with people on the ground to turn challenges into opportunities, and our partnership with West Virginia will be rooted in this mantra.

No one would argue that we have a shortage of issues today, some of which you might even consider to be “existential.” Purpose-driven companies that put their communities and societies at the heart of everything they do, rather than money, will come out on top. With this in mind, our challenge to the business community is to think deeper than a mission statement and to stop playing it safe — we need giant leaps forward more than ever.

 

Richard Branson is the founder of the Virgin Group. John Chambers is the former executive chairman and CEO of Cisco and the current founder and CEO of JC2 Ventures.

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