In the case of Brazil, he said, one model to study is its strategy of helping small startup companies to work with larger companies to develop ideas coming out of the universities. The government invests $2 billion a year on this technology transfer, compared with the U.S. Technology Innovation Program at NIST, which has been funded at about $80 million and is perennially threatened with cutbacks.
He also singled out Singapore, with a population of only 4.5 million. “It is not very big,” he said, “but it is very determined. They have an incredible focus on innovation, and they’re hiring people from all over the world, including Nobel laureates as well as young professors. They have two of the best science and technology parks in the world, Fusionopolis and Biopolis. There is virtually no free land in Singapore, so the determined people build them vertically.”
Sustained and Focused Programs
In Europe, he said, countries have sustained and focused programs, many of them drawn from the U.S. experience. “They think some of our programs, like SBIR, work well,” he said, “while we have trouble getting them renewed by the Congress.” Germany is a high-wage, highly regulated country, like the United States, but nonetheless competes successfully with low-wage economies. It does this through targeted interventions, especially investments in job training, worker retention, and support for small manufacturers. “They understand why manufacturing matters,” he said. “They understand, unlike many orthodox economists, that a purely service economy is not equipped to defend itself militarily or employ all the people who need jobs.” Germany has focused on green technologies, becoming one of the largest producers of solar technologies in the world, despite receiving no more sunshine than Alaska.5
In the United States, he said, the greatest needs are for more speed, critical mass, innovation, and early-stage investments in young, innovative companies. He stressed speed in particular, and the advantages of collaboration between industry and academia. “A 21st-century university is one that partners with industry,” he said. As one initiative that had benefited from moving quickly, he cited the success of New York State in deciding boldly and rapidly to build a new nanotechnology center and college. By investing about $2 billion in a single project near Albany, the state attracted more than $10 billion in private investments and succeeded in establishing a world-class center in nanotechnology, including the participation of the SEMATECH program formerly based in Austin, Texas.
He also mentioned a similar success in Michigan, where the economy had suffered severely from the troubles of the automotive industry. To help ensure that the state’s auto industry remains competitive in the coming era of electrified vehicles, the state, with active assistance from U.S. Senator Carl Levin, had invested more than $1 billion in grants and tax credits to manufacturers of lithium-ion