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Remarks by
William E. Kennard
Federal Communications Commission
Virginia High-Technology Partnership Program
Library of Virginia -- Richmond, VA
February 16, 1998

As Prepared for Delivery

It's a pleasure to be here today. I want to thank Mark Warner, the other leaders of the high-tech industry, and the Presidents of Virginia's historically black colleges and universities for inviting me to the announcement of such an exciting program.

I first want to recognize a couple of people who are not here today, but who I have the pleasure of working with in Washington, Congressmen Thomas Bliley and Bobby Scott.

As Chairman of the Commerce Committee, Tom Bliley is an outstanding leader who keeps the interests of this city first and foremost in his mind. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to work with him. Congressman Bobby Scott is also an outstanding leader. Virginia and the nation are lucky to have both of them as public servants.

One cannot come to Virginia without thinking about the history and tradition of the Commonwealth, and of the fine institutions of learning in this state. The historically black colleges in Virginia have a particularly important tradition of excellence here.

Since we are in Richmond, I of course think first of Dr. Dallas Simmons' Virginia Union University and its outstanding alumni, including the nation's first African-American governor, Doug Wilder. I think of Dr. William Harvey's Hampton University, its founder Booker T. Washington and its excellent school of communications. And I am reminded that Dr. Eddie Moore's Virginia State University was one of the nation's first black public land grant institutions; that Dr. Marie McDemmond's Norfolk State University produced Tim Reid, a broadcast pioneer who has established one of Virginia's first studios; and that Dr. Thomas Law's Saint Paul's College maintains its excellence in liberal arts education and its commitment to its students.

But what makes these leaders and this day so special is not their commitment to the past but their vision for the future. This unique partnership will help to ensure that Virginia continues to lead the nation into the future.

The technology sector offers outstanding opportunities to young people coming out of school. Virginia alone is home to nearly 2,500 technology-based businesses, and its technology sector is growing at more than three times the rate of the overall economy. What's more, these jobs pay an average of 70% more than non-technology jobs. Tech companies are falling over themselves to find technology- skilled workers to keep pace with expansion. One estimate predicts that over the next five years, there will 112,000 jobs in Virginia awaiting qualified applicants.

But while the technology sector offers great opportunities, to take advantage of them, students need skills and training. That's why the Virginia High-Technology Partnership Program is such an important initiative.

The program announced today is an outstanding example of how businesses and colleges and universities can work together to meet private needs in a way that brings public benefits. Businesses get the skilled workers they need. Schools ensure that their students get a firm foundation to start their careers -- a foundation both inside the classroom where they'll get educational support and outside the classroom where they'll get training, mentoring, and help with job placement.

I know what a difference to students this kind of program can make. When I was in college, one of the network affiliates in San Francisco gave me a summer internship. I worked at a commercial television station, learned about the business, and got good career advice -- that I should go to law school before trying to make my break into investigative journalism. I took that advice, went to law school, and wound up as Chairman of the FCC. I know first-hand that opportunity matters, mentors matter, experience matters.

I'm particularly pleased that this partnership involves the five historically black colleges and universities of Virginia: Hampton University, Norfolk State University, St. Paul's College, Virginia State University, and Virginia Union University. These schools are determined that their students get the preparation they need to compete in the Information Age.

It's critical that the African-American community take advantage of the tremendous opportunities that the technology sectors offers. Increasingly, we live and work in a knowledge-based economy where success depends on what we know and how we manage information. We need to make sure that African-Americans are participating vigorously in these burgeoning fields. The benefits of that revolution - - both in terms of educational tools and in terms of job opportunity -- must be accessible to all Americans.

Today, only about two out of ten students entering the labor market have the computer skills they need. Because 60% of all new jobs will require working with computers, this is an issue that is becoming more important all the time. Programs like this one make sure that students learn what they need in school to prepare them for the working world.

The shortage of skilled workers isn't limited to Virginia. When I visited Silicon Valley last month, executives there told me that California also has a dearth of qualified local employees. They, too, are trying to support initiatives that will help prepare students for a future in telecommunications technology. That's good common sense. It is predicted that in 1998 alone, 345,000 information-technology jobs across the country are going unfilled due to a lack of trained workers.

This program should be an example to schools and businesses around the country. I commit to share this model with the industry and community leaders I meet. I would be delighted to see the FCC-related industries -- from telephone to wireless to cable and all the rest -- consider setting up a partnership like this one.

I challenge these industries to develop programs like this one in their own backyards. It's an investment in the community that results in a win/win outcome for everyone.

Because this program will bring students and technology together, it's fitting that this announcement takes place in a library. Getting technology into schools and libraries is one of the critical steps in making sure that our country doesn't fall into two camps: the technology haves and have-nots.

We're taking important steps to make sure that technology reaches everyone. Equally important as targeting college-age students, as this initiative does, is making sure that younger kids get started with the tools and education needed to compete in the Information Age. In the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress sought to ensure that advanced, affordable telecommunications services would be available to every K-12 school and public library in the nation. The Schools and Libraries Corporation began to accept applications from schools and school districts last month. The fund will ensure that all our classrooms are connected to the Internet, and that all our libraries provide access to the best research and learning tools that technology can offer.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 also authorized the Telecommunications Development Fund, to provide a source of loans and investment capital to small communications businesses. Right now, as it's just getting started, the Fund has more than $20 million to fund loans, equity investments, and to provide assistance.

The Fund recently hired its first Chief Operating Officer and Managing Director, Ms. Ginger Lew. By helping small businesses to get started and prosper, the TDF assures that they too can capitalize on the potential of the exploding technology sector.

Congratulations on the launch of a terrific initiative. I wish you the best of luck and I hope you'll keep me posted on your progress. I want to encourage educators and industry across the country to follow your lead.

- FCC -