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Who Is America’s Top Job Creator?

Can you guess the identity of the person responsible for creating the most American jobs over the past 30 years?

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  • The Gore Bill allowed this newly discovered technology within the Defense Department to be thrown out into the hands of business and industry.
  • To re-win the world's economy, America needs high-influence leaders who say, "Hey, that has value to commerce. Customers will want that.

If you were to ask me to look at all the research and observations on job creation and find the most valuable American mentor over the last 30 years, my answer might surprise you. My answer would be Al Gore.

I would bet everything I have that there would have been no sudden $100 trillion surprise GDP growth over the last 30 years without a key facilitating moment by Al Gore. ($100 trillion is the sum of the total overages per year over 30 years of the big misprojected GDP for the United States.) This an example of government — while not creating jobs, nor all-important business models — funding the germ of an invention that entrepreneurs could commercialize. And commercialize they did.

Here’s what happened: Vinton Cerf is widely known as the “father of the Internet.” While working in the DARPA Labs at the U.S. Department of Defense in 1972, Cerf and his collaborators designed the TCP/IP protocol, which was a way to get data to ride on telephone lines in packets, then on radio waves, and finally via fiber optic cables. It was the first big breakthrough in the invention that came to be called the Internet.

Cerf and his team had set up their own Internet around the world, mainly for the purpose of defense communications. The Defense Department needed it because with Cerf’s Internet, information could be transported to a safe place even in the event of things such as a world war, a natural catastrophe, or an attack on America’s systems.

This is the equivalent of the Wright Brothers getting their plane to lift into the sky at Kitty Hawk. But the Internet’s application was only for the Defense Department — and the rest of the world hadn’t heard anything about it yet.

In 1986, then-Senator Gore went to Cerf’s office and asked him what’s new. When Gore learned what Cerf and his teams had made, he suggested that they share it with commercial types to see if they could generate uses for it. Cerf will tell you that he didn’t completely see the merit in Gore’s suggestion, as he couldn’t see the immediate commercial value.

A bill was passed called the High Performance Computing and Communication Act of 1991, which has come to be called “The Gore Bill.” It allowed this newly discovered technology within the Defense Department to be thrown out into the hands of business and industry — and the rest is world-altering history.

Imagine America’s economy and the world order if that simple conversation between Vinton Cerf and Al Gore had never occurred. What if something had stopped one of them — if a meeting got changed or a plane was cancelled because of weather? It was one of the quadrillion moments in which thinking and energy perfectly collided for Cerf and Gore.

What happened next, of course, is that a wide variety of dynamic entrepreneurs — Bill Gates, Paul Allen, Steve Ballmer, Steve Jobs, Andy Grove, Meg Whitman, Michael Dell, teams at IBM and HP, and on and on — picked up the ball. A perfect combination of entrepreneurship and innovation went wild and saved America’s place in the world.

America rose to new economic dominance and maintained its status as leader of the free world. The United States won the economic wars again in large part because of that one conversation, one meeting that connected rare historic inventiveness to commerce and enterprise.

Without that conversation between Cerf and Gore, the United States would have relinquished its global economic leadership, changing its way of life more than anything else has since its founding. American jobs were saved — and millions were created with the commercialization of the Internet and the businesses that sprang up around it.

That brings me to the central point: Al Gore’s role. He wasn’t the inventor of the Internet, nor the entrepreneur. Al Gore was a “super mentor.” He connected the inventors to the enterprise energy by getting a bill passed to make the Internet available to business. He saw something and took action when others didn’t. He was the key facilitator.

To re-win the world’s economy, America needs high-influence leaders who say, “Hey, that has value to commerce. Customers will want that. That invention could create a company or tens of thousands of companies. It could become an economic engine in our city for GDP growth and good jobs.”

Editor’s note: This article is adapted from The Coming Jobs War (Gallup Press) by Jim Clifton. Published with permission of the author. Copyright © 2011 by Jim Clifton.

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About Jim Clifton

Jim Clifton is the CEO of polling firm Gallup and the author of "The Coming Jobs War."

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