Governors discuss education, travel and tourism at Portland conference

Governors from across the United States discussed expanding science education, among other topics, at the NGA conference in Portland on Thursday.

PORTLAND, Maine — More than half of the nation’s governors have opted out of spending part of July in Maine. Those who did were treated to sunshine, lobster and lots of serious talk.

The first day of public meetings for the National Governors’ Association summer meeting ended Thursday afternoon in Portland, after sessions on travel and tourism and increasing computer education in schools across the country.

This is the first time the conference has been held in Maine since 1983.

During the morning session, only 19 governors were present. There were 10 Democratic governors and 9 Republican governors around the Holiday Inn By The Bay table. Maine Governor Janet Mills said earlier in the week that it was not unusual for a number of governors to skip the summer meeting.

Mills welcomed the group to Maine, urging them to leave partisanship at the door and work together.

“It’s possible to find common ground and consensus despite disagreements — that’s what governors have to do every day,” Mills told the audience.

In the morning session, there seemed to be broad agreement that the United States should expand computer training for K-12 schools.

NGA Chairman Governor Asa Hutchinson, R-Arkansas, said governors are already aware of a previous discussion about how IT needs to become a much bigger part of the curriculum — both because of the opportunities for jobs and growth, and to strengthen national security.

Intel CEO Patrick Geisinger told the group that the United States now produces only 12% of the world’s computer chips and that the country needs to better compete with China and other countries. He said that means more training for more people, as well as investment to dramatically increase domestic chip research, development and production.

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“Geopolitics has been defined for the past five decades by where the oil reserves are,” Geisinger said. “Where the semiconductor manufacturing facilities are – where the technology developers are will be the most important for the next five decades, and as I like to say, let’s build them where we want them.”

Geisinger told governors his company still hopes to build two new chip factories in the United States, in Arizona and Ohio. But he said the company and others are waiting for Congress to pass a bill called the Chips for America Act. Among other things, this would provide billions of dollars to invest in the research and manufacture of computer chips in the United States.

Geisinger said the Senate passed the bill a year ago, but it languished in the House. He called on governors to pressure Congress to pass the bill before its usual summer recess in August.

NGA President Hutchinson said governors would discuss the issue before the conference ends and come up with a plan to lobby the federal government.

Meanwhile, Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway personal transportation device as well as several medical devices, told governors that much more work was needed to expand computer education and persuade more women and minorities that the field was open to them.

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Kamen, who founded a nonprofit organization called FIRST to advocate for more science and technology education, called on governors to redouble their efforts to achieve that goal. He said states need to make so-called STEM competitions as much of a priority as high school sports.

“If you can get involved to make this happen, it could be this country’s greatest legacy for cultural change,” Kamen said.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, Republican, has expressed strong support for increased science and technology education.

“Computer coding is the number one way out of poverty. It’s not just a job, it’s a well-paying career. This is what our country needs,” Sununu said.

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Governor Janet Mills said Maine has made significant progress in expanding computer science education, and said Pine Tree State ranks well above many other states in progress On the question.

Governors also spoke about travel and tourism on Thursday afternoon, and Friday’s session will focus on improving literacy, which will include a virtual appearance from singer Dolly Parton, a vocal advocate for better literacy.

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