America was founded on the spirit of innovation, but if it does not recapture some of that thinking, its economic power may be a thing of the past.
That was the main message of Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney as he spoke to nearly 1,000 people at the on Friday. The breakfast session was sponsored by the Northern Virginia Technology Council and the Consumer Electronics Association as part of NVTC's Presidential Series.
"Where did America's culture of prosperity come from?" former Massachusetts Gov. Romney asked. "The first settlers left lives that they were comfortable with to make a better life. The Constitution and the Declaration of Independence said our rights don't come from government, but from God and we have rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This became THE place on the planet to pursue life the way you choose. This was the place every innovator wanted to come.
"If we are to remain the strongest nation on Earth, we must remain the most innovative."
Romney, coming off second-place finishes to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in primaries this week in Missouri and Colorado and a third-place finish in Minnesota, explained how America has lost its economic edge.
"So many people who work in our government have never worked in the private sector," he said. "Liberals feel that innovation will happen anyway. So when people tell me the government can do whatever it wants and not change the innovation and spirit of America, I tell them I think they are wrong.
"Over time, government has pushed itself deeper and deeper into our personal lives and the economy," Romney said. "It is one of the reasons our country has not rebooted itself after the last recession."
Romney pointed out that America has ranked last or next-to-last in innovation the last two years, according to a study by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation.
"We're going to have to make some dramatic, bold changes, or we will be eclipsed and prosperity and change will be casualties," he said.
Among the changes he would make should he get elected:
1. Put in place a tax structure to enourage people to take risks.
2. Change government regulation to be encouraging rather than "killing all potential risk."
"We have a government whose job it is to say 'no risk whatsoever,'" Romney said. "It enourages people to take their ideas elsewhere and America falls behind."
3. Open the market for goods from America.
"In the last three years, China and European Union countries have had 44 trade agreements," he said. "The U.S. has had none."
4. Open up energy resources.
Romney used the example of solar company Solyndra. He says the federal government's $535 million investment in the company—which went bankrupt last fall—encouraged innovators to take their ideas and go elsewhere.
"It stifles innovation when you choose winners," Romney said. "What helps is investing in research, space, military and science and health."
5. Improve the investment in human capital by strengthing K-12 and higher education.
"I love this country," said Romney. "I am optimistic. I have seen the spirit of America and seen people time and time again succeed, as long as we have leaders who are leading. I am ready to call on the American people to rise to greatness."
Romney was introduced by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R). McDonnell, who endorsed Romney several weeks ago, is frequently mentioned on the short list of vice presidential candidates should Romney be the GOP candidate.
McDonnell pointed out Virginia's own record of innovation and opportunity as seen in the commonwealth's 6.2 percent unemployment rate and the ranking as the most business-friendly state in the nation by CNBC.
The Virginia primary is March 6. Only Romney and candidate Ron Paul are on the ballot.