Technology-Based Economic Development
In “Manufacturing and Workforce” (Issues, Fall 2022), Sujai Shivakumar provides a timely and important review of the CHIPS and Science Act. This landmark legislation aims at strengthening domestic semiconductor research, development, design, and manufacturing, and advancing technology transfer in such fields as quantum computing, artificial intelligence, clean energy, and nanotechnology. It also establishes new regional high-tech hubs and looks to foster a larger and more inclusive workforce in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—the STEM fields. In a recent article in Annals of Science and Technology Policy, I noted that the act focuses tightly on general-purpose technologies, emanating from technology transfer at universities and federal laboratories. Shivakumar correctly notes that public/private investment in technology-based economic development (TBED) in manufacturing must be accompanied by workforce development to match the human capital needs of producers and suppliers.
I have two recommendations relating to workforce development, in the context of technology transfer. The first is based on evidence presented in a 2021 report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine titled Advancing Commercialization of Digital Products from Federal Laboratories. (In full disclosure, I cochaired that committee with Ruth Okediji of Harvard University.) The report concluded that accelerating commercialization of research requires that we achieve a better understanding of workplace and managerial practices relating to technology transfer, including individual and organizational factors that may inhibit or enhance the ability of scientists to engage in commercialization of their research. These factors include the role of pecuniary and nonpecuniary incentives, organizational justice (i.e., workplace fairness and equity), championing, leadership, work-life balance, equity, diversity and inclusion, and organizational culture. Understanding such issues will help identify and eliminate roadblocks encountered by scientists at federal labs as well as universities who wish to pursue technology transfer. It would also allow us to assess how “better performance” in technology transfer is achieved.
A second recommendation concerns a major gap that needs to be filled, in terms of developing a more inclusive STEM workforce to implement these technologies. This gap centers on tribal communities, which are largely ignored in TBED initiatives and technology transfer. Unfortunately, economic development efforts for tribal communities have predominantly focused on building and managing casinos and developing tourism. Results have been mixed, with limited prospects for steady employment and career advancement.
Opportunities for TBED strategies to aid tribal communities might include the development of new investment instruments, the strategic use of incentives to attract production facilities in such locations, and the promotion of entrepreneurship to build out supply chains. This would require adapting tools for TBED to be better suited to the needs and values of the communities. That means developing a TBED/technology transfer strategy that simultaneously protects unique, Indigenous cultures and is responsive to community needs.
In sum, I agree with Shivakumar that workforce development is key to the success of the CHIPS and Science Act. Two complementary factors that will help achieve its laudable goals are improving our understanding of how to better manage technology transfer at universities, federal labs, and corporations, and involving tribal communities in technology-based economic development initiatives and technology transfer.
Foundation Professor of Public Policy and Management
Co-Executive Director, Global Center for Technology Transfer
Arizona State University
Sujai Shivakumar stresses the importance of building regional innovation capacity to bolster manufacturing innovation in the United States. He rightly notes that this needs to be a long-term cooperative effort, one requiring sustained funding and ongoing policy attention.
One of Shivakumar’s key points is the necessity of complementary state and local initiatives to leverage federal and private investments through the use of public-private partnerships. As he notes, the success of the nano cluster centered in Albany, New York, was initially based on collaboration with IBM and the state, especially through the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, but it reflected a 20-year commitment by a succession of governors, both Republican and Democratic, to developing a regional semiconductor industry.
Working with Thomas R. Howell, we have documented the long-term nature of this effort in a recent study titled Regional Renaissance: How the New York Capital Region became a Nanotechnology Powerhouse. We describe in some detail (because the details matter) the role of regional organizations, such as the Center for Economic Growth and the Saratoga Development Commission, steadily supported by leaders of the state assembly to find a site, obtain the necessary permits, build out infrastructure, and win public support. The state also encouraged training programs in semiconductor manufacturing by institutions such as the Hudson Valley Community College. Moreover, the semiconductor company AMD (now Global Foundries) was attracted by the resources and proximity of the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, building and expanding a semiconductor fabrication plant—or “fab,” in the field’s parlance—that has led to many thousands of well-paying jobs.
This model is especially relevant to meeting the needs of growing numbers of semiconductor fabs that are encouraged under the CHIPS and Science Act. Indeed, in order to address the need for applied research, student training, and collaborative research among semiconductor companies, the Albany facility stands out, not least for its proven track record and its exceptional capabilities, based on its commercial scale fab, ideal for testing equipment and designs but unusual for a university.
This facility can and should be a central node in the semiconductor ecosystem that the nation seeks to strengthen. If we are to avoid an excessive dispersal of funds and the long lead times of new construction and staffing, we will need to draw on existing facilities that are already operational and can be reinforced by the resources of the CHIPS and Science Act.
In short, we need to capitalize on current centers of excellence, even as we seek to create new ones in a spoke-and-hub model, using their proven strengths to reinforce this ambitious national undertaking. Time is not our friend; existing assets are.
Global Innovation Policy
Science, Technology, and International Affairs
School of Foreign Service