As Argentine immigrants, Betty Manetta’s parents worked long hours in factory jobs to put their daughters through private school. Witnessing her parents’ work ethic and their belief that education is the key to success, cultivated a drive in Manetta. After high school, she worked for Western Electric, put herself through night school to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Her success in a Fortune 100 company led her to start her own supply chain and technology business, Argent Associates. Nearly 20 years later, Manetta is the founder of two businesses, which together have created 200 jobs and $400 million in annual revenue.
Despite her personal success and the continued growth of her businesses, Manetta is worried about her companies’ ability to compete in a global high-tech economy. Not enough students are majoring in engineering and science, which has created a talent and knowledge shortage in the United States. “We need a pool of talent here in the United States, but I’m finding myself looking offshore for that,” Manetta says, adding that while offshore labor is less expensive, the complexities of partnering with foreign entities and managing visas are time consuming and expensive. “Many of my competitors are foreign-based and have the competitive advantage of government and business connections,” she says. “It’s tough to compete with those companies being based in the United States.”
We need a pool of talent here in the United States, but I’m finding myself looking offshore for that.
Manetta believes that in the United States, government and business need to make STEM education a national priority—especially for inner-city kids. “Our kids, especially Latinos, would benefit from seeing STEM as the next ‘cool’ thing,” she says. “We really need to step up to the plate and fix the educational system so that our kids can prosper and compete globally for us, for their future.”
In the meantime, Manetta says we need immigration reform that makes it easier to recruit top talent from other countries. She’s also in favor of guest worker programs that allow laborers to work in the United States seasonally. As for undocumented workers already living here, she’s in favor of granting them a legal status and residency, but with proper vetting. “I have neighbors who are not documented,” she says. “Two of their kids were born overseas and one was born here. They’re in school, working and contributing. How do we separate them from others who are not contributing? Since we have open borders and free education, we need to ensure that our tax money investment is focused on getting our country a maximum return. We have to find a way.”