Governors Tout Link Between R&D, Centers

Governors Tout Link Between R&D, Centers

Christine Todd Whitman

By William Welsh, Staff Writer

Governors hoping to establish high-tech centers in their states must increase support for research and development projects that nurture partnerships between universities and the private sector, according to two new reports by the National Governors' Association.

The reports provide a blueprint for creating new high-tech areas similar to California's Silicon Valley, recommending that the states invest heavily in the research and development that binds universities and technology companies.

"These reports stress that you can't just wish your way into the new economy, said New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman (R), who released the NGA reports June 7 at a state technology seminar in Somerset, N.J. "We must look at ways to build our research and development base, and we must make a long-term investment."

Whitman, one of eight governors serving on NGA's New Economy Task Force, said states should encourage university-industry partnerships and do whatever possible to provide support mechanisms for these partnerships. The task force was established to help governors stimulate technology growth in their states.

One of the reports, "Using Research and Development to Grow State Economies," offers suggestions for cultivating successful research and development environments. The other, "Building State Economies by Promoting University-Industry Technology Transfer," examines the importance of state universities' patent and licensing agreements to economic development and provides policy-makers with strategies for promoting so-called university-industry technology transfer.

The reports are the fifth and sixth in a series of reports on the new economy from NGA's Center for Best Practices.

The reports also can be used by local policy-makers, said Dan Berglund, one of the authors and executive director of the State Science and Technology Institute, Westerville, Ohio. "They should be a good blueprint for anyone interested in building a technology-based economy," he said.

As part of the blueprint, the authors cite numerous initiatives designed to foster research and development, including building intellectual infrastructure, creating mechanisms that transfer new ideas to the marketplace, enhancing physical infrastructure, producing highly trained and technically skilled workers, facilitating access to capital and encouraging entrepreneurial cultures.

To varying degrees, these formulas were used to create nationally recognized high-tech areas, such as Silicon Valley, North Carolina's Research Triangle Park, and Massachusetts' Route 128 corridor. The authors observed, for example, that North Carolina invested hundreds of millions of dollars over more than 25 years to transform Research Triangle Park into a prominent national technology center.

"The states that are ahead of the game with high-tech corridors have a long-standing tradition of high-end research and strong university systems," said John Thomassian, director of the Washington-based NGA's Center for Best Practices. For example, Research Triangle Park has the University of North Carolina, North Carolina State University and Duke University all within 20 miles of the park.

Those states not actively involved in the new technology economy should establish at least one or two high-tech centers tied to universities, he said.

In order to participate fully in the new technology economy, states must take three critical steps related to research and development, the authors said. First, states should develop a plan for building the R&D base. Second, they must recognize that building the base means a long-term, sustained and significant investment. Third, they must hold initiatives accountable and measure performance regularly.

A number of governors and legislatures have taken concrete steps to stimulate research and development at the state level.

"The states are now creating the kind of climate that is necessary for technology companies to grow," said Berglund.

In New Jersey, for example, Whitman has proposed a $165 million program called "New Jersey Jobs in a New Economy." The program, if funded, would put $15 million toward "excellence grants" designed to encourage institutions of higher education to produce skilled students who can take advantage of the new economy; $10 million toward a "challenge fund" for technology research at the state's learning institutions; $10 million toward helping small companies obtain venture capital; and $3 million toward providing women leaving welfare with computer training.

The program designates an unspecified amount for planning grants to cities so that they may establish "cyberdistricts." Together with these proposals, Whitman wants to expand the North Brunswick Technology Center and develop a new center in southern New Jersey.

In Virginia, Gov. James Gilmore (R) is in the process of establishing a state advisory commission on research technology, and the state legislature has appropriated $26 million to fund research and development for fiscal 2001 through the Commonwealth Technology Research Fund, said Fred Williamson, Virginia's deputy secretary for technology.

By establishing the advisory commission, Gilmore is "making the linkages between research institutes and business [in Virginia] even more explicit than they already are," Bergland said.

While initially it may seem as if state appropriations for research and development are less substantial than federal, university or private-sector investment in R&D, that is not actually the case, said Berglund. As for university research, he said: "Even if the states aren't the funder, they are certainly the enabler, since the infrastructure for public universities comes from state funding."

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