Moldova Business Week ICT Panel – Introductory Remarks

State Secretary Tarlev, thank you very much for that kind introduction.

I’m pleased to be here to introduce today’s panel on Information and Communications Technologies, or ICT.

First, I also wanted to share my thoughts about the U.S.-Moldovan economic relationship, the potential ICT has to contribute to Moldova’s economy, and some of the initiatives the U.S. Embassy, including USAID, have taken to help Moldova reach its full potential.

To begin with, the United States remains very much committed to helping  Moldova achieve its goal of becoming a fully democratic, economically prosperous state firmly anchored in the West and secure within internationally recognized borders.  Such an outcome is good for the Moldovan people, and good for us.

One of the ways we can strengthen our partnership with the Moldovan people in the years ahead is by finding ways to boost trade and other economic ties between our two countries.  The more that business people in Moldova and the United States work together and invest together, the more we will build shared prosperity in our countries.

But we must remember that improved business relations and stronger economic ties do not happen overnight or materialize out of thin air.  They are closely connected to broader, often difficult, political and economic reform.  American business people need and expect a level playing field, strong rule of law, and an environment that is transparent and free of corruption.

Unless and until Moldova can better control corruption and give citizens an active voice in government, there is little hope of substantially increasing investor confidence and harnessing that power to grow Moldova’s economy.

Good governance and a stronger economy will improve living standards for all Moldovans while fostering integration with increasingly important Western trading partners.

Clearly, a key ingredient in securing Moldova’s future prosperity is developing its  ICT sector and digital economy.  These new technologies are already revolutionizing the global economy and connecting producers and consumers around the globe.  We want to see Moldova — which has a unique location with access to markets in both the East and the West, and a highly trained, multilingual workforce — at the forefront of those changes.

I am proud that our Mission is already playing a significant role in the developing and promoting these sectors in Moldova.

Since 2006, Moldova has seen a 20-fold growth in exports of ICT products and services.  And that growth is accelerating; ICT exports grew by an impressive 45% in 2017.

Overall job growth in the ICT sector has reached 15% per year – currently employing 20,000 Moldovans, including 13,000 tech engineering and software development professionals.  By the way, new jobs for software developers are growing at 38% annually.

And these are good jobs.  Software developers have some of the highest salaries in Moldova, earning an average of 24,000 MDL a month.  High-quality jobs like these can help keep young Moldovans here, halting the exodus of human capital that will otherwise continue to hinder the Moldovan economy.

But we can also attribute this boom to the fact that the Government of Moldova and the private sector have forged a remarkable partnership, coming together to prioritize ICT modernization and promote game-changing sector initiatives that can transform the Moldovan economy and provide opportunities for the next generation.

I’m here to say that the United States is committed to helping Moldova achieve these ambitious goals.  Through USAID, our government has been investing in the ICT sector since 2005.  U.S. assistance is focused on three main areas: improving the regulatory environment, building business infrastructure, and creating a sustainable tech workforce pipeline.

On regulation, in partnership with the Moldovan government and private sector, we are laying the foundation for an environment where innovative ICT businesses can thrive.  For example, the “IT Park” Law enabled us to develop Moldova’s first virtual IT Park.  This fast-growing initiative is benefitting established companies and start-ups alike across the country.  The Law also introduced visa-free travel for ICT professionals and a streamlined 7% flat corporate tax.  USAID is also fostering collaboration between the government and private sector to formulate the ICT Industry Competitiveness 2023 Strategy, which outlines a path for exponential industry growth!

Reliable business infrastructure is an essential to Moldova’s export-oriented ICT industry.  To help lay this foundation, we partnered with local private IT company Starnet to develop Moldova’s first state-of-the-art physical ICT Park. Branded as downtown Chisinau’s “Digital City,” this $15 million investment is a game-changer – providing a Silicon-Valley-type working environment to foster creativity and competitiveness.  The first Park tower is almost complete and will open its doors in the next few months.

To help sustain ICT industry growth, Moldova needs a pipeline of qualified tech sector workers.  In partnership with the Swedish Development Agency, the ICT Association, academia, and government, our Mission is establishing cutting-edge innovation centers to increase tech human capital.  Housed at Moldova’s largest universities, these innovation centers are developed in partnership with global corporations such as IBM, Microsoft, and others – with a total joint investment exceeding $10 million over five years, from 2015-2020.  This is the largest collaborative investment in developing Moldova’s workforce of tomorrow.

And to make sure that the next ICT sector generation stays competitive, our Mission is also promoting youth STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) education, bringing industry leaders and innovative technologies directly to local schools.  Coding, robotics and 3D printing are all being used to create collaborative learning environments in the classroom.  Our Future Classroom Lab (FCL) and Educational Robotics programs have already benefited over 11,500 Moldovan young people in recent years.

We also supported efforts to engage girls in technology and science so that Moldova can inclusively develop the next generation of tech leaders to solve tomorrow’s problems.

The whole world has already witnessed how these efforts are paying off:  Moldova’s Youth Robotics team recently scored 3rd at the Global Robotics Competition 2018 in Mexico, demonstrating that not just countries like Singapore and Romania, but Moldova too, is developing globally competitive tech talent.

If Moldova continues to invest in a reliable business infrastructure and in developing its human capital, the ICT industry will undoubtedly continue to be a bright spot in the Moldovan economy.

By the way, I also wanted to note that we recognize Moldova faces real cyber challenges.  We are working with the government, private sector and the federally-funded Pacific Northwest National Laboratories (PNNL) to help critical infrastructure operators identify threats and improve Moldova’s defenses.

It is our hope that the continued success of the ICT sector can demonstrate to the Moldovan people the kind of success that results from smart policies and public-private collaboration – and to show young Moldovans that they don’t need to move abroad to find rewarding, lucrative careers.  This is just the beginning.

Thank you for your time, and enjoy the panel discussion.