News: News Archives
AAAS S&T Forum: States, Industry Play Key Roles in U.S. Innovation Drive
Mary Jo Waits
With the U.S. government hampered by financial constraints and political divisions, state policymakers are pressing new initiatives—often with partners in business, universities and foundations—to improve the climate for science-related innovation, experts said at the AAAS Forum on Science and Technology Policy.
California is well-known for its $3 billion ballot measure to fund stem cell research and for its green-energy initiatives. Pennsylvania is pursuing an ambitious program to promote energy independence, biosciences, nanotech and 21st century manufacturing. Georgia has set aside $400 million to build research facilities and recruit top scholars. New Mexico, already home to two national laboratories and a booming high-tech sector, is joining with Virgin Companies Chairman Richard Branson to build a spaceport.
"There's huge growth in the number of states that are starting to invest in research," said Mary Jo Waits, director of the Pew Center on the States. "We read about a few states in the headlines, but people would be amazed at how many states are putting in initiatives to support... research and development."
The 32nd annual Forum, held just a few blocks from the White House on 3-4 May, attracted some 450 policymakers from government, education, industry and other fields. The event featured discussions of surveillance; R&D in the developing world and Europe; and the quandaries of "sequestered science," in which groundbreaking research findings are kept secret because of business or security interests. The overarching theme was U.S. innovation policy—and its uncertain future—in a world growing smaller and more competitive.
"The Forum covered a remarkable range of topics," said Al Teich, director of AAAS Science and Policy Programs, "but the willingness of states to invest in research and innovation, largely unhindered by ideology, was a real attention-getter. They are truly becoming 'laboratories of democracy.'"
Many Forum speakers cited the urgent message of "Rising Above the Gathering Storm," the National Academies' seminal 2005 report urging a muscular nationwide re-commitment to innovation, and their presentations suggested that it has helped galvanize a movement that now reaches into state capitals, universities, foundations and businesses nationwide. The role of states in R&D was the subject of a three-hour Forum panel on 3 May, and also was discussed in a panel on U.S. and global R&D budget issues.
In the United States, two-thirds of all research and development is funded by industry; because industry focuses heavily on development, the majority of basic and applied research is funded by the federal government. The role of the states remains relatively small, but Waits and others said it is growing, powered by new energy and new commitment even in traditional "limited government" states like Arizona and Oklahoma.
"We are undergoing a dramatic transformation in our state," said Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan, who spoke at the budget panel. "No longer can children grow up knowing that a well-paying job, with lifelong benefits, awaits them at the local assembly plant. No longer do mid-level managers plan careers with, and devote loyalties to, one company. And no longer do executives fret only about next year's models, but also the next decade's health care and pension costs.
"Our state is being forced to reinvent its economy, moving from its historical strengths in manufacturing, to one built on innovation and knowledge. And that is where our universities must step forward, because we are the innovation engine of the nation."
Waits said states like Michigan are working to create their own "innovation habitats," using a unified strategic vision that employs laws and regulations, tax incentives, grants, construction of research infrastructure, public-private collaborations and other tools to create an environment where innovation will fuel economic growth and the improvement of life for residents.
"We would tell a government: Put all of your pieces together," Waits said. "Embed your R&D investments in a 21st century innovation strategy... . You're going to work on the basis of excellence, not on the basis of politics." [Update: The Pew Center on the States and the National Governors Association released "Investing in Innovation," a report on state-supported R&D investments, in late July 2007.]
States in every region of the country are creating ambitious R&D plans; governors are hiring science advisers and policymakers are forming non-partisan science and technology advisory boards and grant-making panels modeled in part after the National Research Council and the National Science Foundation. And in many, the focus is on improving S&T education, both for the benefit of the students and to support the state's long-term economic strategies.
The states R&D panel featured innovation strategists from four states, each of which outlined their goals and tactics:
California: The Golden State has long been a powerhouse of innovation; its university systems, national laboratories, and NASA research centers, along with Silicon Valley and the biotechnology industry, have served as engines of growth not just for the state, but for the globe. Recognizing the importance of forward-looking development, state officials created the California Council on Science and Technology in 1988. The Council gives S&T advice to government officials on a range of S&T issues, said Executive Director Susan Hackwood, an electrical engineer.
The Council has more than 150 members—educators, professionals and scholars, including six Nobel laureates—who have provided advice to state policymakers on subjects ranging from genetically modified foods and nanotechnology to energy and intellectual property. The Council in recent months has helped shaped an agenda for reacting to regional climate change and is providing analysis of more than 60 climate change bills pending in the state legislature, Hackwood told the Forum.
"California is at a crossroads," the Council warned in a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last December. "Executive decisions made in the near term will shape the future and determine whether or not we stay at the vanguard of research and discovery. Unless bold action is taken now, the state will quickly face significant challenges."
In response, Schwarzenegger has backed new research initiatives totaling nearly $145 million. He also has modified one of his Hummers so that it runs on hydrogen, she said.
Hackwood, who serves as chair of AAAS's Committee on Science, Engineering and Public Policy, described education as an urgent Council interest. Statewide, 66% percent of new mathematics teachers and 54% of new science teachers do not hold a preliminary credential. The Council this spring released a report on California's science and math teacher crisis and a California version of Rising Above the Gathering Storm. Both of these efforts have drawn "phenomenal support" from business leaders, Hackwood said.
Pennsylvania: Building on its strong universities and medical research centers and its historic strength in manufacturing, Pennsylvania has moved ahead with an ambitious plan for future S&T development, said Richard Bendis, president and CEO of True Product ID Inc. and former president and CEO of Innovation Philadelphia.
The state's Department of Community and Economic Development has targeted five industries for investment—biotechnology, nanotechnology, telecommunications and information technology, energy, and manufacturing—with the belief that those fields can create a potent synergy for innovation and growth.
As an example, Bendis cited the Jonas Salk Legacy Fund, which will use tobacco settlement funds to advance innovation in biosciences. The state is already a national leader in the field, he said; its research institutions in 2005 received nearly $1.5 billion from the National Institutes of Health.
By providing seed funds and attracting new capital, the Salk fund expects to generate $1 billion for new investment, and that, Bendis said, would mean thousands of new jobs, new research facilities, and important medical breakthroughs.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell has announced an ambitious, multi-faceted energy-independence plan. The state will create an $850 million fund, using a small surcharge on the state's electricity customers, in hopes of generating $10 billion in long-term savings. Some $500 million will be used for clean energy projects, including biofuels, solar and wind power, clean coal power, and conservation. Nearly $250 million will be used for rebates and other incentives to encourage the use of efficient home appliances and solar energy systems.
The initiative is expected to create 13,000 new jobs and stimulate $3.5 billion in new investment.
New Mexico: With several federal research facilities and a booming high-tech sector, New Mexico is emerging as an S&T center. Already, it has more Ph.Ds per capita than any state in the nation, says physicist Thomas Bowles, the science adviser to Gov. Bill Richardson.
Now the state is developing a comprehensive S&T support and development plan that builds on existing strengths in aerospace, bioscience, energy, environment and water, information technology, and nanotechnology. State officials expect to define targets and priorities for R&D, and then to make stable, long-term investments, working with experts in economic development, workforce development and education.
One critical area of concentration will be supercomputing, Bowles told the Forum, and the state is investing $42 million over five years in the state-of-the-art New Mexico Computing Applications Center. It is expected to have a $650 million return on investment over five years, Bowles said.
"Supercomputing has gotten to a point of power and affordability that it is going to revolutionize the way we do things," he said. "If you think computing has changed things so far, hold onto your hat."
Initiatives in supercomputing can help create high-paying new jobs while attracting young people into S&T fields, said Bowles, the former chief science officer at Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Bowles cited a crucial challenge for state R&D advocates: because policymakers and the public often don't understand the scientific process, there's a "general lack of trust" for R&D endeavors. "So we must work very hard to inform the public and legislators about these issues," he said.
William C. Harris
Arizona: Over the past two decades, Ireland has been one of the world's most remarkable economic success stories, and Arizona is trying to pattern itself after Ireland, said William C. Harris, president and CEO of Science Foundation Arizona (SFAz). Harris served from 2001-2006 as director general of Science Foundation Ireland, and under his guidance, the Irish body established globally competitive, comprehensive grant programs for researchers and research centers as well as awards that support S&T education.
Harris, who served at the National Science Foundation from 1978-1996, warned against the polarization that prevails in the U.S. political climate. "We are in a huge economic global competition," he said, "and if we fragment ourselves, we will not be successful."
SFAz was initiated last year by business and civic groups in Arizona, and has already begun making targeted investments and awarding grants designed to nurture the state's innovation climate:
Under the Competitive Advantage Awards program, nearly $3.75 million has been invested in 23 projects proposed by Arizona research institutions focused on advanced communications and information technologies, biosciences and sustainable systems. The program's purpose is to identify research proposals with the greatest potential to secure significant federal grants within two years.
Under the Graduate Research Fellowship program, SFAz will award up to $50,000—$4 million in all—to top first-year graduate researchers in science, engineering or biomedical research at the state's three universities.
Under its K-12 Student & Teacher Discovery program, SFAz has made nine investments totaling $3.2 million to support science, technology, engineering and mathematics education in the state's schools. A $525,000 award went to a program that serves underprivileged students, and will serve in part to support a robotics competition. Another $525,000 grant went to a program that provides specialized training to mathematics and science teachers.
"We can no longer sit back and say, 'It's okay... we can throw away some of these kids,'" Harris said. "We need every brain."
Edward W. Lempinen
8 June 2007