Sunday, August 19, 2018
Opinion

Column: We are in urgent need of science

Expertise matters. It is particularly relevant when the need is immediate and personal. We don’t look to the mechanic to do brain surgery, nor do we look to the brain surgeon to fix our brakes. While we value both, we readily seek the practiced wisdom of specialized expertise as it is needed.

On the other hand, it can be difficult to visualize the benefits arising from expertise that isn’t tied to the needs of now. In a Florida Research Consortium report titled "Research as Economic Foundation" (http://bit.ly/ResearchAsEconomicFoundation), we make the case for scientific expertise now. This expertise will create definite economic benefits for Floridians as it is made tangible with cures, new products and new services, in ways that are not yet seen.

In the report we show that:

1. Economies grounded with research have shorter, tamer recessions and better economic performance, including more resources available for citizen services or lower tax rates;

2. Regional research capacity is directly tied to high-wage/high-skill STEM jobs, which are the kinds of jobs we want for our children and grandchildren;

3. Florida has underinvested in numbers and quality of research personnel who almost always attract greater investment; and,

4. When Florida institutions are paired with the appropriate resources, they succeed in creating ideas that lead to high-wage STEM employment.

In 2015, Florida’s GDP per capita was $39,000, $4,000 less than it was in 2006, the peak year before the Great Recession. Meanwhile, the U.S. GDP was $50,000, or $1,000 more than its peak year of 2007. Florida’s shortfall to the United States increased to $5,000. Measuring from respective GDP peaks before the recession, the more research-intensive and peer-sized states of California, Texas and New York increased already substantial GDP per capita leads over Florida by an additional $8,000 to $10,000 each.

The report shows that the scientific capacity of our large peer states is more than double ours. Additionally, they engage 12 times more National Academy members, which is a significant measure of quality of research personnel. It is this capacity and quality that leads them to produce four times the number of ideas or "new recipes." These recipes are transformed into high-wage STEM jobs, which are more productive and create sustainable advantage and wealth for their states.

Innovate or Die is more than the catchy title for a book. They are the choices we face and arrive at late. To change our dependency on traditional services and growth requires innovation. Innovation is talented people, creating new recipes through systematic research and matching those recipes with talented entrepreneurs and capital to create new products, services and companies. High-performing states appropriately invest in research talent, entrepreneurs and capital formation. They realize that knowledge, like any other infrastructure, is important to the success of their citizens.

Jack Sullivan is president of the Florida Research Consortium, a partnership of education, business and government that advocates for knowledge-based economic development in Florida. Founded in 2001, FRC works to increase awareness of the cutting-edge research to enhance the diversity and strength of Florida’s innovation economy through research commercialization.

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