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Roundtable on Innovation and Economic Development

by
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D.
President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Roundtable on Innovation and Economic Development
Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies
Troy, New York

Friday, February 3, 2006


Good morning — as President of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you to our Troy campus. And, to our guests from Washington, D.C. — welcome to the Capital Region of New York State.

I am very pleased that all of you have joined us for this Roundtable on Innovation and Economic Development, and I ask you to help me welcome our distinguished guest, The Honorable Sandy K. Baruah, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development.

Before I continue, however, I would like to recognize several individuals:

  • Harry Tutunjian, Mayor, the City of Troy
  • Peter Grimm, Rensselaer County Legislator
  • Mike Stammel, Rensselaer County Legislator
  • Brian Zweig, Rensselaer County Legislator
  • John Ebersole, President of Excelsior College
  • Thomas Haas, President of SUNY Cobleskill
  • Harry Apkarian, Trustee of Rensselaer 

There is a compelling need for the United States to strengthen its capacity for innovation in order to retain leadership and pre-eminence in an increasingly global — and flat — world. Technology has leveled the field for all players, enabling nations and economies to vie intensely for leadership and for market share.

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Bush outlined an “American Competitiveness Initiative.” This call to action — along with recent bipartisan Congressional initiatives—provides critical momentum for a new emphasis on innovation.

There are few who disagree. Every sector — corporate, academic, and government at all levels — has joined the growing chorus for a renewed national focus on America’s capacity to innovate. In his State of the State address last week, New York State Governor George Pataki called for more math and science teachers and offered scholarships to students who pursue careers in those fields.

Two critical components drive the competitiveness agenda:

The first is human talent and creativity. The President called for investment in basic research, permanent research and development (R&D) tax credits, and steps to encourage children in mathematics and science. We, also, must directly support those who will do the science and engineering, as they pursue higher education and advanced graduate study.

The second — the compelling impetus — is energy security. The President called for research in zero emission coal-fired plants, solar and wind technologies, and nuclear energy.

National leadership is exactly what is needed, and we must do all that we can to help make these proposals become reality, and to encourage others across the full spectrum of innovation.

For some years, I have been urging a national dialogue to generate the will for national policy addressing threats to our intellectual security. I have called this the “Quiet Crisis” — the threat to our nation’s capacity to innovate due to the looming shortage in the nation’s science and technology workforce. The human dimension of the “Quiet Crisis” is embodied in:

  • Imminent retirements of today’s scientists and engineers — the generation inspired by the “space race” and President John F. Kennedy’s call to put a man on the moon.

  • Flagging mathematics and science tests scores of our students on international examinations, and the fact that fewer of our young people are pursuing science and engineering degrees than 15 or 20 years ago.

  • Changed demographics of today’s student population creating a “new majority” of young women and ethnic and minority groups—a population which traditionally has been severely underrepresented  in science, engineering, mathematics, and technology fields.

  • A decrease in the number of international scientists and students coming come to our shores to work and to study, or to remain if they do, as they seize new opportunities to work and study at home, or elsewhere.

Now, with energy security central to our economy, progress, safety and well-being, we are in urgent need of human talent. This is the 21st century’s reprise of the “space race” — which was really a defense-based “science race.”

With the world consuming two barrels of oil for every barrel discovered, we know that we can no longer just drill our way to energy security. We must innovate our way to energy security. New energy technologies demand our highest purpose and best innovative abilities — for innovative extractive and transportation technologies for fossil fuels, for innovative conservation technologies, and for innovative alternative fuel technologies.

The issues, of course, are intertwined. Energy security demands innovation and innovation demands excellent human talent, and a lot of it. And, the growing chorus of sector voices has launched the current national dialogue.

Now there is leadership at the highest levels. And, the question becomes, do we have the national will to do what is necessary to link policy proposals to budgets, ensuring real investment in the components of innovation?

What are the steps we must take locally, regionally, state-wide, and nationally to put the components together to ensure American competitiveness? How can we move this forward?

This is what we are here to discuss today.

Two years ago, Rensselaer hosted one of three regional summits on the National Innovation Initiative of the Council on Competitiveness. Many of you were here then, when we discussed “The Innovation Continuum” — this uniquely human endeavor, at the nexus of discovery, ideas, perception, and application, which — when scaled and marketed — creates jobs and a thriving economy. We discussed the need to invest in, and be measured by, the essential components of the innovation continuum: human capital, infrastructure, diversity in all its meanings, support for basic research across a broad disciplinary front, and enabling mechanisms for translating research results into the market place. We have all the elements, here, at Rensselaer, and as such it is the perfect place to be having this Roundtable.

We are here, this morning, to take the dialogue to the next level. We must create the next generation of scientists and engineers, mathematicians, and technologists. We must support our young people who want to become teachers of mathematics and science, and also support the scientists and engineers of the future.

In part, it is up to the Administration and to the Congress — to link policy proposals to the federal budget, insuring real investment in innovation, so critical to our nation’s economic and national security. In part, it calls for our leadership.

This morning, we are fortunate to have with us from the Administration the Honorable Sandy K. Baruah, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, and it gives me great pleasure to introduce him. Mr. Baruah is the principal advisor to Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez on domestic economic development policy.  His primary responsibilities include policy development, establishing funding priorities, defining grant investment policy guidelines and directing the operations of the Economic Development Administration (EDA).

The EDA serves as a venture capital resource to meet the economic development needs of distressed communities throughout the United States. EDA’s mission is to lead the federal economic development agenda by promoting innovation and competitiveness, preparing American regions for growth and success in the worldwide economy.

Prior to his nomination last December, Mr. Baruah served, since 2001, as Acting Secretary of the Commerce Department, Chief of Staff, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Program Operations. He, also, held posts in the administration of the first President Bush, and on the staff of Senator Bob Packwood.

Mr. Baruah’s experience in government is matched by his experience in the private sector. As a corporate management consultant for the Portland, Oregon-based Performance Consulting Group, he helped to shape the business strategies and operations for such clients as Walt Disney World, Intel, Key Bank, and Citizens Bank.

We are privileged today to hear him bring the Administration’s perspective to the urgent need to accelerate innovation — and its role in economic development.

Concluding Remarks

Innovation asks this question: Where — in the World — Will the Next Big Idea Come From?

Whoever answers, will have world class research facilities and educational institutions graduating increasingly qualified science and engineering students. It will invest in its human capital, capturing and fostering talent, and increase support for mathematics and science education. It will invest in basic scientific research. It will provide incentives for research and development.

The question reminds us that to move from ideas to actualization, we must have leadership, strategic policies, comprehensive programs, and long-term commitment.

The question reminds us that innovative energy technologies would bring our own nation energy security and would help to foster global stability.


Source citations are available from the division of Strategic Communications and External Relations, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Statistical data contained herein were factually accurate at the time it was delivered. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute assumes no duty to change it to reflect new developments.

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