include estimates of the benefits, both economic and non-economic, achieved by the SBIR program, as well as broader policy issues associated with public-private collaborations for technology development and government support for high technology innovation, including benchmarking of foreign programs to encourage small business development. Where appropriate, operational improvements to the program will be considered.

The project will assess the contributions of the SBIR program with regard to economic growth, technology development and commercialization, and contributions by small business awardees to the accomplishment of agency missions, while seeking to identify best practice for the operation of the SBIR program. The project will encourage cross-fertilization among program managers, agency officials, and participants by convening national experts from industry, academia, and the public sector to review and discuss research findings.

II. Background

A. NRC and Technology Policy

Since 1991, the National Research Council has undertaken a program of activities to improve policy makers' understandings of the interconnections of science, technology, and economic policy and their importance for the American economy and its international competitive position. The NRC's activities have corresponded with increased policy recognition of the importance of technology to economic growth. New economic growth theory emphasizes the role of technology creation, which is believed to be characterized by significant growth externalities. In addition, many economists have recognized the limitations of traditional trade theory, particularly with respect to the reality of imperfect international competition.

Recent economic analysis suggests that high-technology is often characterized by increasing rather than decreasing returns, justifying to some the proposition that governments can capture permanent advantage in key industries by providing relatively small, but potentially decisive support to bring national industries up the learning curve and down the cost curve. There is also growing attention given to the potential of science-based economic growth derived from clusters of universities, laboratories, leading corporations, and dynamic small businesses. Recognition of these linkages and the corresponding ability of governments to shift comparative advantage in favor of the national economy provides the intellectual underpinning for government support for high-technology industry and especially small business.

B. Policy Context

The creation of new high technology business is a central concern of policymakers around the world. Starting in the late 1970s and accelerating in the 1980s, a growing body of empirical evidence began to indicate an increasing role for small business in job creation and innovation.77 A recent report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) confirms policymakers’ perceptions that small and medium-sized enterprises are major sources of economic vitality, flexibility, and employment.78 In the United States, programs to support high technology business were launched during a time of increasing concern over the ability of U.S. companies to commercialize R&D results.

A prominent element in the diagnosis of America’s economic ills during this period involved the country’s failure to successfully commercialize new technologies developed by researchers. A recent report by the National Research Council recalls how the “gloomy picture of U.S. industrial competitiveness” in the 1980s was frequently cast in terms of American industry’s failure “to translate its research prowess into commercial advantage.”79 One of the strategies adopted by the United States in response to its loss, or

77  

Zoltan J. Acs and David B. Audretsch, Innovation and Small Business. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1991. For specifics on job growth, see Steven J. Davis, John Haltiwanger, and Scott Schuh, “Small Business and Job Creation: Dissecting the Myth and Reassessing the Facts,” Business Economics, vol. 29, no. 3, 1994, pp. 113-22.

78  

Small business is especially important as a source of new employment, accounting for a disproportionate share of job creation. See OECD, Small Business Job Creation and Growth: Facts, Obstacles, and Best Practices. OECD, Paris, 1997.

79  

David C. Mowery, “America’s Industrial Resurgence (?): An Overview,” in David C. Mowery, ed., U.S. Industry in 2000: Studies in Competitive Perfomance. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1999, p. 1. This volume examines 11 economic sectors, contrasting the improved performance of many industries in the late 1990s with the apparent decline that was subject to much scrutiny in the 1980s. Among the studies highlighting poor economic performance in the 1980s include Dertouzos, et. al., Made in America: The MIT Commission on Industrial Productivity, Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1989 and Eckstein, et al., DRI Report on U.S. Manufacturing Industries, New York: McGraw Hill, 1984.



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