SSTI Editorial: The Difference a Year Makes for Federal Economic Development Policy

May 13, 2009

For nearly every budget issue SSTI has prepared during the first decade of the 21st century, our opening paragraphs read like obituaries. The previous administration was ideologically opposed to the government taking an active role to support economic development, even tech-based economic development, beyond increases for university and federally based research. Spending for federal programs that support regional community and economic growth were slashed repeatedly. The memories are fresh of having to fight for every dollar in Congress, and, watching appropriation levels slide. Earmarks grew as programs were forced to fend for themselves. Unless you've been in the TBED field for nearly a decade, those may be your only perceptions of the federal role for innovation.

States, counties, communities, universities, civic organizations and foundations stepped in to fill some of the holes left behind as the federal partner for supporting the nation's innovation system withered, but it couldn't be enough compared to the possibilities of establishing a true innovation-oriented partnership between industry, academia and all levels of government.

We could wallow in the what-ifs, or reflect on the resulting opportunities lost, or worry about the increasing economic pressures presented by other nations who didn't skip out on investing in innovation during the past few years nations - now seeing the results of those investments pay off as their standings in global innovation metrics rise. But there isn't time - or need.

Things are looking up. We have an important opportunity. And it isn't just because we are presented with a budget request that increases virtually every federal program focused on innovation, community-development and economic development. It is provided to us by the depth of the current economic downtown and the need to rethink our collective approaches to restoring economic vibrancy. We have an opportunity to build an effective partnership among all levels of government and all players in our innovation system to make things better. It will take more than federal money, however.

We must all be engaged in the process, starting with this budget, to ensure the reversal of fortune - the newfound federal funding for TBED versus the emptying state and local coffers - does not become overly prescriptive for the state, regional, university, nonprofit and for-profit efforts already promoting tech-based economic development. The nation needs to establish a new level of collaboration among all participants in building regional systems to support and expand opportunities for innovation.

Seize the Moment
The opportunity before us is a reason why SSTI decided several months ago to make that phrase the theme of this year's conference - Oct 21-23, 2009. We just need to take that opportunity and get it right. We hope you'll join your peers from across the country: http://www.ssticonference.org

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