New Economy Spurs States' Science and Technology Efforts
By Wil Lepkowski, Special to Stateline
Technology and science have increasingly become prime state policy issues as communications technologies of the new economy supplant the older manufacturing technologies in investment popularity and job creation.
Ever since the 1960's, states -- led by Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, California, and Massachusetts -- have tried to integrate research and technology with their economic development programs. Lately, however, technology issues have been given even higher priority due to the Internet/Ecommerce explosion and the formation of high tech enterprises.
The State Science and Technology Institute (SSTI) recently issued a report outlining through case studies what states are doing to spur their economies through science and technology. They are focusing "on building their research capacity, on increasing the availability of capital, on improving the skills of their workforce, and on a combination of those and other strategies," says Dan Berglund, executive director of the Columbus, Ohio-based institute.
SSTI was established in 1996, the outgrowth of a report issued by the Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology, and Government in 1992. The report said states needed to do a better job of connecting their economic development goals with their scientific and technological resources.
That meant stronger ties between state government and federal research and development programs, industrial firms and academic labs. The report said a new organization was needed to do that, and with the help of a Carnegie grant, the institute came into being.
From its website, SSTI connects science and technology programs and officials throughout the country through a weekly news service and various Internet linkages.
The SSTI report on state activities describes such initiatives as a new science and technology council in Idaho, a loan forgiveness program in Arkansas for students who choose high tech careers, Michigan's $1 billion program to spur biotechnology development under various financial mechanisms, Wisconsin's new $100 million venture capital fund for new technologies, and various schemes by states to use tobacco money to fund technological R&D in several economically and socially important fields.
However, Berglund sounds a note of caution. "While the new activity is occurring literally from Maine to Hawaii," he says, "the one disturbing note in this new activity is its concentration in certain geographic areas. Policy makers will need to consider the implications for their individual states and for the country (of) the paucity of new activity in the West and South."
Among the laggards are Florida and Tennessee in the South, Wyoming and Montana in the West.
Bergland concedes that southern states have sponsored a Southern Technology Council for years, and that Georgia has emerged as a leading light in the South in building a strong research and technology infrastructure. But he says the problem in both the South and the West is lack of enough political willpower to sustain programs after they are conceived.
The federal link is an important element in the technological agendas for the states because of the amount of federal money spent on R&D. While the federal government has fallen short of its goal in seeing that state interests are represented in agency programs, a federal-state "Innovation Partnership" does exist and is operated out of the Commerce Department.
Commerce has in fact taken the lead in relating its work to state priorities. One popular Commerce Department program is the Manufacturing Extension Partnership within the National Institute of Standards and Technology. MEP, through sites in each of the 50 states and Puerto Rico, helps small manufacturing businesses improve their operations. State officials have been given an oversight and management role in most of the centers. The Housing and Urban Development Department has also tried to incorporate state and local thinking in its urban development programs.
Berglund says he is encouraged by the recent formation at the National Science Foundation of a new $8 million Office of Innovation Partnerships designed to connect research and institutions supported by the agency with state technology programs. But on the whole, says Berglund, the initiatives on the federal side are lagging.