The United States economy is creating millions of new jobs, yet the average American worker is feeling the squeeze of stagnant wages and the offshoring of entire industries.
The cure? Brainpower. Innovation, more specifically.
That's the watchword for a 17-member team of national leaders in government, academia and private industry that gathered Tuesday in Phoenix as part of a meeting of the National Governors Association. The project, known as Innovation America, is to dream up new ways to turn American ingenuity into new jobs.
The stakes are huge, task force members say, since the United States faces growing competition from global behemoths such as China and India.
"We have an edge here but we are losing our edge," said Gov. Janet Napolitano, chairwoman of the association and co-leader of the task force. "The world economy is changing. The United States economy is changing. This initiative is right at the tipping point."
It's about more than revamping schools to create students better educated in math, science and engineering.
Arizona State University President Michael Crow said the effort requires a fundamental change in culture, such as universities sharing research to generate breakthroughs. Or accepting more accountability for the quality of the teachers they produce for K-12 schools.
Not everyone is sold on the group's aim.
Goldwater Institute economist Noah Clarke, who was not present for Tuesday's discussions, noted that innovation has always been America's greatest strength. The economy would be best served, he said, if government got out of the way rather than getting more involved.
"This is nothing new. We've always had to come up with the next big thing," Clarke said. "They've repackaged it to justify government involvement."