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Building blocks of regional innovation economies explored; SSTI gives testimony in support of national effort

June 10, 2021

Outlining the need for a new national effort to build regional innovation economies, a panel of experts gave testimony to the Research and Technology subcommittee of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, chaired by Rep. Haley Stevens (D-MI). The panel focused on how regions have developed their innovation economies and how those experiences could be replicated across the country with federal support. SSTI President and CEO Dan Berglund's testimony drew from SSTI members’ experience and his more than 35 years in the field to make the case that a robust federal response was required with a national strategy and federal funding to support state and local organizations as they develop regional innovation economies. The hearing comes as the U.S. Senate approved a regional technology hubs program, as part of the Endless Frontiers Act, which passed the Senate with bipartisan support this week (see related story).

Calling out successful examples of thriving regional innovation economies such as Georgia, St. Louis and Pennsylvania, Berglund highlighted the need to build on their efforts and the shared characteristics of successful efforts that could guide a responsible federal program:

  1. Bring all actors together — including the private sector, higher education institutions, economic development organizations, nonprofits, and foundations — to work collaboratively.
  2. Develop an approach that is customized to the local strengths, capabilities, needs and culture of the region.
  3. Make long-term, sustained commitments that are of a scale to make a difference—and flexible enough to adapt to emerging opportunities and seeking broader impacts.

In his testimony, Berglund called for a federal initiative that empowers an inclusive group of stakeholders to enact a strategy tailored to the strengths and opportunities in their specific region through a substantial and sustained investment as the best approach for strengthening both regional innovation economies and the American economy as a whole.

In order to build a national strategy, Berglund called for the funding and planning to take those successful local lessons and implement them in a sustained effort to bring the work to scale.

“We need bold, robust support from the federal government that offers flexible funding to states and organizations to build regional innovation economies and transform our national economy,” Berglund said. “Funding from the federal government that addresses the whole innovation system rather than individual elements of the system would be critical to building a regional innovation economy and different than any other federal program.”

Berglund called for serious consideration by the committee for the regional technology hubs proposal that is a part of the Endless Frontier Act, with its focus on entrepreneurship and business development, technology maturation and workforce. The legislation could support dozens of hubs that could have a meaningful impact on their regions.

“The results would be more areas and people benefitting from a technology economy and a stronger country,” he said. Berglund also outlined elements that should be addressed in the legislation in his written testimony to the committee.

“[W]e can no longer afford to follow an approach where regions are cobbling together support from states, private entities, and single-purpose federal programs,” Berglund said. “Congress, which clearly recognizes the critical threats facing the American economy, should guide a strategic, substantial investment in regional innovation economies.”

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