Charleston West Virginia Economic Development

Discussions on Economic and Community Development in West Virginia and the Charleston MSA as well as issues of the Charleston Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Article appearing in today's Charleston Gazette:

Lane cites innovation as key to U.S. recovery

By Eric Eyre
Staff writer

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Silicon Valley venture capitalist Ray Lane came back to West Virginia Wednesday night and offered up a one-word prescription for bringing prosperity back to the United States: innovation.

Lane, a West Virginia University graduate and former president of computer software giant Oracle Corp., said America is slowing down on innovation.

"If we do not innovate to solve the problems we have now, we are destined to live in the past," Lane said during the Charleston Area Alliance's "Annual Celebration" at the Clay Center Wednesday. "If we do not maintain innovation and invent the next best thing, then we have a real problem."

Lane knows a thing or two about innovation. He watched Oracle Corp.'s revenue grow from $1 billion to $10 billion a year during his eight years as chief operating officer and president.

He now works for the venture capital firm, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, an early investor in Google and Netscape.

Lane cited a lack of innovation as a major reason behind General Motors Corp.'s financial troubles. GM filed for bankruptcy earlier this week. Lane criticized the federal government bailout.

"You as a taxpayer need to be mad, angry that you've put in $50 billion," Lane said. "Go into a showroom as see what that $50 billion has changed."

Lane, who serves on WVU's Board of Governors, identified three fields that offer hope for innovation: renewable energy, personalized medicine and digital mobility.

He said the U.S. isn't moving fast enough to solve the energy crisis.

Of the world's 30 leading companies that focus on renewable energy -- wind, solar and geothermal power -- only six are located in the U.S.

"We have a problem," Lane said. "I actually found more innovation in solar and wind in the Middle East than in the U.S. They're scared to death [in the Middle East] of the end of oil. They're using their money for investment."

Lane said he wanted to "see the coal industry innovate as much as anybody," and he highlighted a company -- GreatPoint Energy of Boston -- that's working to turn coal into clean-burning natural gas.

"It's pipeline quality natural gas," Lane said.

In the area of personalized medicine, Lane's venture capital firm invests in companies that help people to better predict and treat illness.

"When you walk into a medical facility, you want to say, 'I am unique,' and therefore I want the drug that suits me best," Lane said. "We are on the verge of huge breakthroughs in the next five years."

In the field of digital mobility, Lane predicted a strong future for mobile "smart phones," such as the iPhone.

"Nobody goes to the PC anymore to get on the Internet," Lane said. "It's all mobile. The phone now knows who you are. It's going to help you do what you want to do."

Also Wednesday, the Charleston Area Alliance economic development group handed out four awards to local organizations that promote "quality of life and excellence in the workplace." The winners were: Habitat for Humanity of Kanawha and Putnam; Kanawha County Public Library; West Virginia Health Right and Capitol Market.

Reach Eric Eyre at or 304-348-4869.


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