By John Chambers

(This article originally appeared in The Hill on April 8, 2018)

We’re currently in one of the most pivotal moments in U.S. history. Technology is advancing at a faster pace than ever before, bringing with it unprecedented opportunities for businesses of all sizes and across all industries. We’ve seen digitization enable startups to compete on the same playing field as enterprises, tear down barriers to entry that prevented small businesses from scaling, boost GDP growth, and perhaps most profoundly, enrich the lives of our citizens.

Though we may have been the world’s unrivaled innovation leader during the Information Age, the U.S. certainly isn’t leading today. In fact, according to the 2018 Bloomberg Innovation Index, the U.S. is now the 11th most innovative country, falling out of the top 10 for the first time ever. We’re approaching a sink-or-swim moment, and our policymakers can no longer take the U.S.’s leadership in tech for granted.

If we want to maintain our competitive edge in today’s global innovation race, Congress and the administration should commit to advancing several key pro-innovation policies during these last nine months of 2018:

We must win the global competition for talent.

This requires a two-pronged policy approach: the U.S. needs to boost its STEM talent pipeline through investments in STEM education and workforce training for Americans. The Immigration Innovation (“I-Squared”) Act of 2018 serves as a great launchpad, creating the largest workforce education and training fund in our nation’s history to boost STEM investments for U.S. students and workers.

At the same time, we need urgently to fix our high-skilled immigration system so that businesses can recruit the best qualified people for currently unfilled jobs without harming U.S. workers. The high-skilled labor shortage is only getting worse and by 2020, there will be one million more computing jobs nationally than there will be graduates to fill them, according to the Texas Computer Education Association. If we don’t fix our H-1B visa application process, the brightest minds in tech will go to countries like France, that created the French Tech Visas to lure the best talent around the globe.

Second, the U.S. must keep up the tax reform momentum.

The enactment of the new tax law in December 2017 should be properly implemented so it can continue to promote economic growth, job creation, and opportunities in the tech sector. But, we can’t rest on our laurels. We must remain vigilant about how other countries respond and continue promoting tax policies that help the U.S. be as globally competitive as possible. The U.S. can start by simplifying the existing tax code for startups, so they can take full advantage of the provisions intended to benefit them.

Rather than imposing administration burdens for job creators, we should work to ensure that tax policies affecting the gig economy provide clarity and promote opportunities in this growing segment of the economy.

Third, we must modernize trade deals to increase access to new markets.

Improving the ability for U.S. companies to sell to more markets and customers abroad is critical for economic growth and job creation. I believe the U.S. should expand its market access for trade in services, including those that are digitally delivered. With growing concerns over the impending trade war and its potential harm to U.S. consumers and workers, we must continue to promote and defend the benefits of fair and transparent trade. This means ensuring protections for the free flow of data across borders, strong protections for intellectual property and safeguards against intermediary liability.

And last but far from least, we must fuel our startup engine by boosting entrepreneurship.

A strong startup economy is the key to driving GDP growth and job creation. Yet new businesses spent an average of $83,019 dealing with regulations in their first year. Small businesses owners are facing similar challenges, spending at least $12,000 each year dealing with regulations, which can greatly inhibit their hiring process. That’s why we need policies in place that encourage the risk-taking needed today to help young entrepreneurs and their companies scale to become tomorrow’s global business leaders. If we lighten the regulatory requirements or create special loan programs for entrepreneurs, we will make the U.S. the most attractive place in the world for anyone to start a company, grow their business, and take it public.

For many decades, it was often Silicon Valley that fueled our nation’s tech innovation and startup culture. But if the U.S. wants to reclaim its rightful spot on Bloomberg’s List of the Most Innovative Countries, we need to expand the vibrant and dynamic startup culture across all 50 states – to cities like Atlanta, Columbus, and Detroit.

We can breathe new life into communities across the country, create new jobs, and fuel our country’s innovation pipeline if we act on the priorities above. In fact, a study by TechNet and the Progressive Policy Institute found that if policymakers put in place pro-startup policies as part of a larger innovation agenda, we could add one million new jobs to the American economy every year going forward. I’d say that’s a pretty good start.