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Unless Southern California Universities Get Back on the Fast Track, the Train of High Technology Will Pass Us By

October 15, 1989

I found that Michael Schrage's column ("Entrepreneurial Gap at Local Universities" Sept. 14) hit a resonant set of truths and that the letter in rebuttal by James Zumberge, University of Southern California's president, smacked of the bland response of the old power in its sunset years.

As the sixth largest economy in the world and a major trade center for the U.S. economy, Southern California cannot rest on its laurels and ignore its responsibility in supporting the global economic war that we as a nation are on the verge of losing. Entrepreneurship and high-technology enterprise will likely play a pivotal role in this war. Yet the vast technological resources remain virtually imprisoned in the aerospace and defense companies of the region, and the sacred catacombs of local academia.

It was not always this way. Simon Ramo, Arnold Beckman, Henry Singleton, Dutch Kindleberger, Howard Hughes, Tex Thornton in the 1940s to the 1960s forged giants such as Hughes, TRW, North American Aviation, Litton, Teledyne and Beckman Instruments.

One need merely ask, "Where are Southern California's equivalents today?" Perhaps there are a few possibilities such as Ashton-Tate, Amgen and AST Research, but there seem to be no sure fireballs. Let's not restrict ourselves to Silicon Valley. Where are our equivalents to Microsoft, Compaq Computers, Apollo, Lotus, Federal Express and MCI?

Let there be no mistake about it. Semiconductor technology is the crude oil of the second half of the 20th Century and will change our economy and way of life irrevocably. Biotechnology will be the crude oil of perhaps most of the 21st Century and, riding on the wave of electronics technology, will change our longevity, our philosophy of life, our social memory and cultural evolution, in addition to our economic way of life.

You will find no firms involved in these industries in Century City, in West L.A. or at the surf in Malibu.

Shall we get on the train or watch it go by?

FRED A. BLUM

Westlake Village

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