Nightly News | February 28, 2011
>>> take a look at this. pentagon's newest spy drone, the hummingbird, a prototype of what they hope to use for video surveillance. an example of scientific innovation that can come out of the defense industry . the problem is with the american economy still struggling, people are wondering about america's ability to hold on to superiority in research and development of the next big thing. in our special series this week " america at the crossroads ," we are looking at how changes at home and across the world are affecting our economy. and we begin tonight with nbc's tom costello.
>> reporter: from the model t to apollo.
>> one small step for man --
>> reporter: from the pc to the web. time and again american innovation has transformed the economy creating countless jobs along the way. so is there a next big thing on the horizon that might lift the economy and create millions of new jobs? in silicon valley chip giant intel is spending a staggering $7 billion on research and development this year alone. looking for the next big thing. computer chips hard wired with topography software, advanced graph ibs and smart cameras that recognize a landmark then jump to a related wikipedia page.
>> you see us investing in good times and in bad times when other people don't.
>> reporter: but ceo paul talini fears the country is losing its competitive edge to asia. he blames high corporate taxes and and education system that's falling behind the rest of the world in math and science.
>> this is very scary. you take this out over another 10, 20 years, you won't have the ability to find the workers you need for the jobs that american companies or foreign companies located here are going to need.
>> reporter: so intel is investing $100 million a year on k through 12 education, another $100 million on co-rab rattive university research centers looking at the next generation of computing. but he doesn't see a single next big thing on the american horizon. a series of innovation in high tech , biotech and green tech. if it will be a series of innovations, one of those may be happening right here at the r&d lab at a-123 where they're taking lithium battery technology to a whole new level. the company is now hiring thousands of employees at its new plants in michigan where it's building batteries for new electric vex and massive batteries to back up the nation's electric grid .
>> we can make the grid more stable by applying batteries that will last for a decade that will provide stability for the grid.
>> reporter: a-123 is the brainchild of several professors at m.i.t. which has hundreds of active companies in the u.s.
>> entrepreneurship is not our short comings. the short comings reside in the large firms who aren't able to stay with it.
>> reporter: too quick, says roberts, to ship jobs overseas taking advantage of business incentives and university educated workers. as for intel , it has 45,000 u.s. employees and it's spending billions on factory in arizona, new mexico and oregon.
>> we don't have a god given right to these jobs. we stro make sure we create the environment where people, not just american firms but foreign firms will want to be here.
>> reporter: tom costello, nbc news, santa clara , california.
>>> much more from tonight on our website, nightly.msnbc.com.
>>> tomorrow night tom brokaw takes a look at the skills that will be needed in the workforce and how to go out and get them.