Earl Baker, who served as a Pennsylvania state senator for seven years, chaired the Labor and Industry Committee, where he advocated the use of information technology for economic development. He also served on the Communications and High Technology Committee.
Baker was first elected to public office as a county commissioner in 1975, and served three terms until elected to the Senate in 1988. While in the Statehouse, he represented most of Chester County, a Philadelphia suburb. Baker, who holds a doctorate in political science, has been affiliated with Temple University for 20 years. He is now vice president of public-sector information systems business development for Unisys Corp.
GT: Besides acting as a manufacturing base, what other roles can information technology play in helping a regional or state economy?
Baker: Well, I think one of the basic things needed is a way to pull together a lot of separate resources. A prospective company, relocating company or expanding company looks for zoning information, subdivision ordinances, local tax practices or tax rates that apply to given counties or given school districts, townships or cities. And surprisingly enough, very little of this information is online, although if you spend a lot of time digging through publications, you can find this sort of thing.
That's one of the things I hope will be done in Pennsylvania. I can use, as a contrast, North Carolina's home page, which enables you to actually click down to the local level in six different economic development districts. To me that's a model of where Pennsylvania and other states should go.
GT: How does this help government serve the residents of the state?
Baker: The state cannot prosper unless it has a thriving economy. Our state is losing its young people to other states, primarily Southern states. You can cut through all the rhetoric about improving the business climate and reduce it to a human equation -- if a state can't attract its young people to stay then it's losing the race for the future. It will not, over the long haul, survive. That says something about the society as well. Do we have a place where young people want to show confidence in the future?
One of the reasons that many of the Southern states have succeeded is because they aggressively provide information at a low access cost to the user. If you are a company in Illinois and you are thinking of possibly relocating to Pennsylvania or North Carolina, Pennsylvania says they'll send you something in three weeks. But with North Carolina, you can click it right up and maybe even do some analysis and have the results that day. Obviously, the agent is going to the place that can provide information easily and with fast access.
GT: How does this fit into the big picture of an area being attractive to younger people?
Baker: Opportunities attract people. You have to look for the connecting factor, which is: Are there future jobs, are there current jobs, can you keep the companies that are here, and can you get to the point someday where companies who aren't here would like to be here?
Right now we're on the downside of that equation, but through using information, through a commitment to policy, that can be changed. In other words, it's not just bad luck that some states end up in one position and other states in another position. It is an accumulation of policy choices that they make that can be changed. They can be changed mildly and slowly or they can be changed dramatically if there is a real political and policy-level commitment to do it.
GT: How can technology impact the continuous evolution of government in general?
Baker: If you think of what government