In last night’s State of the Union, President Obama laid out an ambitious agenda for his final term. Though not explicitly stated, it was clear to us that the common thread running throughout his speech, the very force necessary to drive the initiatives he championed, was innovation.   

Time for New Ideas, Greater Cooperation
The fiscal crisis in which we find ourselves – with sequester standing in our path and the debt ceiling looming overhead – cannot be solved by old ways of thinking and continued stalemate around what’s possible. Simpson-Bowles and other deficit reduction plans have mapped out ways to reform our tax code, reduce spending and sustain our entitlement programs. We now need Congress and the Administration to move past entrenched positions and embrace a plan that puts country, not party, first. That may not sound all that innovative, but there hasn’t been much (if any) compromise happening in Washington, DC lately.

The Business Leader’s Role
And it’s not just political parties that need to think and act differently. As the President pointed out, we need to accelerate the job creation being driven by business. It’s true that Caterpillar, Ford and Apple are bringing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. But by supporting further innovation – in biomedical research, renewable energy development, upgraded infrastructure and educational programming – business can work with government to generate prosperity for all.

That’s a mindshift for some in the business community. At the Alliance, we believe in the role of government, but recognize that more government is not always the answer. Sometimes it’s less. And other times it’s having just the right balance of public and private sector ingenuity that saves the day. The power of innovative public-private partnerships to drive change is a big part of what makes our country great.

Newton North Innovation LabP-Tech Schools Lead the Way
Let’s consider education. The President noted the potential of the P-Tech School in Brooklyn – an innovative collaboration between IBM, New York Public Schools and the City University of New York – to graduate students with a high school diploma and associate’s degree in computers or engineering.  This “grades 9 to 14 school” focuses on STEM in attempt to prepare our young people for the jobs of the future. 

In Massachusetts, where the Alliance is headquartered, we’ve seen first hand the promise of public-private partnerships in education. At Newtown North High School, the state’s first innovation lab prepares students for the 21st century workforce by linking them with the world around them. There, students have the opportunity to partner with the likes of legendary restaurant Legal Sea Foods to convert cooking grease into fuel. These hands-on experiences help our youth realize sustainable career opportunities.

It is precisely these sort of innovative, cross-sector partnerships that must be embraced by business and government if we are to truly make the state of our union stronger.

What did you think of the President’s speech? And what other examples of innovation and public-private partnerships should we be looking to for inspiration? Leave your comments below: