The numbers from Internet pioneer Barry Schuler, founder and chairman of laser innovator Raydiance of Petaluma, brought a gasp from the 180 attendees at the Business Journal's Impact Sonoma conference Oct. 20.

Apple Computer, he noted, employs about 25,000 people in the United States.

Foxconn, the Chinese electronics manufacturer, employs 1.2 million.

Though the number is not publicly released, it is estimated 400,000 Foxconn workers are employed making Apple products, he said.

Breathtaking, indeed, but a reality in a globalized economy. But more importantly going forward, said Mr. Schuler, who was CEO of America Online when it was at its peak, now makes wine in Napa and is a self-described "Education Warrior," the U.S., California and the North Bay can still lead the next wave of innovation and wealth creation.

How are we supposed to do that given our current state of political and economic affairs?

Mr. Schuler's answer is the "Innovation, education and economic development triangle." All three must work together if the U.S. is the lead the next waves of innovation, he said.

The good news is the U.S. has history on its side. It has lead the world in innovation since the Industrial Revolution. The IT revolution has driven the U.S. economy for the last three decades or more. Just consider this factoid from Mr. Schuler: "If an iPhone were built in 1978 it would have cost $4 billion" based on the price of a transistor.

The next waves of innovations the U.S. can and must lead are what Mr. Schuler referred to as "Internet 3.0," the next phase after social media; "Automobile 2.0," the shift to battery and other non-fossil-fuel technologies; "Clean Technolologies;" "Photonics: The Light Age," in which Sonoma County has a talent advantage spawned by the Telecom Valley boom of the late 1990s; and, finally, "Artificial Biology: Industrial Revolution 2.0" encompassing the genomic revolution and "synthetic biology."

There's just one big problem: Having the educated workforce to exploit these opportunities.

Mr. Schuler bluntly calls the state of public education "a collective failure of the Baby Boomer generation." He divides the system into two small groups, "the independent opt-outs" who have moved to private or charter schools, and, secondly, "the drop-out factories" that are "our source of national shame," and one big group, "the silent, suffering majority."

No amount of federal programs or state funds are going to change this state of affairs, he said. "It is up to us."

One answer is an organization Mr. Schuler helped start, New Tech Network. It began with a single high school in Napa and is now nationwide with 86 schools in 16 states, which will grow to more than 100 in 2012.

Now comes the third part of the triangle, economic development. Here Mr. Schuler uses the example of Galway, Ireland, which built an research and development center of excellence around medical device companies and its local university.

And therein lies Mr. Schuler's virtuous cycle: innovation supported  by economic development supported by education.

Easier said than done, Mr. Schuler acknowledges. But it is imperative to win the global innovation competition....Brad Bollinger is Business Journal editor in chief and associate publisher, 707-521-4251, bbollinger@busjrnl.com. Mr. Schuler's PowerPoint presentation from Impact Sonoma is available at NorthBayBusinessJournal.com.