Program to Strengthen Business, Academia Ties

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Program to Strengthen Business, Academia Ties

By Dennis McCafferty

Staff Writer

A program proposed by the Clinton administration may break down communications walls between academic and entrep- reneurial worlds, state officials say. The effort could pay for shared World Wide Web site resources and statewide intranets, they say. Or it could provide funds for research to advance changes in state laws or corporation and university policies that discourage economic progress.

"A lot of times, the connection between what goes on in the laboratory and what goes on in corporate development is entirely different and there's no connection between the two,'' said Mark Lowdermilk, a manager at the state of West Virginia Development Office, a state-run economic development agency in Charleston, W.Va.

"Microsoft didn't get big by waiting around for the federal government to buy its products,'' he said.

Called the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Technology, or EPSCoT, the program would provide $1.65 million to 17 states and Puerto Rico to enhance technology economic development opportunity through university research. The eligible states are: Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia and Wyoming.

If Congress allocates money for the program, the effort could begin during the 1998 federal budget year. The administration has proposed that the U.S. Department of Commerce oversee funding for the effort. The state partners would have to match funding to take part, although the ratio of federal to state dollars hasn't been pinpointed yet.

Most of the states targeted for this program rank among the lowest in the nation with respect to technology employment and salaries, according to an American Electronics Association survey. (Although there are some exceptions: Idaho's nearly $52,000 average wage ranked fifth in the country in 1995, according to the survey.)

However, these states don't have technology-driven economic corridors that approach those in Austin, Texas; Boston or the greater Washington region.

The proposed program grew out of a National Science Foundation effort to spark university research in financially strapped states.

Currently, Commerce officials plan to go to Billings, Mont., New Orleans and an unspecified city in West Virginia within the next several weeks to find out from local leaders how the program should take shape.

"These states are not the most advanced with their technology infrastructure, so we want to go there and see what needs to be done,'' said Marc Cummings, an assistant for policy development at Commerce.

"What we hear is that these people want to be up front in the policy-making process, instead of designing the program and then having the states participate.''

At a University of Kansas laboratory in Lawrence, Kan., researchers are making strides with a promising light-wave project. State officials would like to see that hard work translated into economic opportunities for small-business entrepreneurs.

But it's a tricky leap, especially in states like Kansas - certainly no one's idea of a technology haven. Not when institutions such as the University of Kansas go up against the Stanfords and MITs of the nation to compete for federal economic development grants.

Officials in Kansas and other relatively rural states are hoping that the program will help level the playing field.

"The states where you have a lot of federal funding for science at universities are generally the same states that are strong with getting small business funding,'' said Richard Bendis, president of the Kansas Technology Enterprise Corp., a state-launched, quasi-public organization in Topeka, Kan., that seeks to boost the economic development of technology industry. "So the rich get richer.''

Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Technology

Alabama
High-Tech Jobs 42,521 (24th in country)
Average Wage $39,796 (30th)
Arkansas
High-Tech Jobs 16,921 (36th)
Average Wage $34,153 (45th)
Kentucky
High-Tech Jobs 28,281 (31st)
Average Wage $32,002 (48th)
Louisiana
High-Tech Jobs 19,096 (34th)
Average Wage $38,332 (34th)
Mississippi
High-Tech Jobs 14,151 (37th)
Average Wage $33,937 (46th)
West Virginia
High-Tech Jobs 9,537 (43rd)
Average Wage $30,962 (49th)
Kansas
High-Tech Jobs 24,947 (33rd)
Average Wage $39,471 (32nd)
States' technology economic development picture in 1995.
Nebraska
High-Tech Jobs 26,534 (32nd)
Average Wage $35,549 (42nd)
North Dakota
High-Tech Jobs 3,747 (48th)
Average Wage $28,561 (50th)
Oklahoma
High-Tech Jobs 30,351 (28th)
Average Wage $35,869 (41st)
South Dakota
High-Tech Jobs 9,178 (44th)
Average Wage $27,534 (51st)
Maine
High-Tech Jobs 7,773 (45th)
Average Wage $37,002 (37th)
Vermont
High-Tech Jobs 11,561 (42nd)
Average Wage $45,971 (17th)
Nevada
High-Tech Jobs 11,905 (41st)
Average Wage $37,907 (35th)
Idaho
High-Tech Jobs 12,502 (40th)
Average Wage $51,879 (5th)
Montana
High-Tech Jobs 3,374 (49th)
Average Wage $34,521 (44th)
Wyoming
High-Tech Jobs 1,522 (51st)*
Average Wage $37,564 (36th)
* Survey included Washington, D.C.
Note: Puerto Rico, which is also being considered
for the program, was not included in the AEA's survey.
Source: American Electronics Association

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