The National Academies
Dr. Wessner welcomed the participants. Introducing the work of the National Academies’ Board on Science, Technology, and Economic Policy (STEP), he stated that a key mission of the Board is to better understand the scientific and technological elements affecting the competitiveness of the United States. “One thing we try to work on,” he said, “is how to use the great research investment that we make in this country to accelerate innovation and advance competitiveness.” STEP attempts to do this by convening workshops of experts, which “to a surprising extent” are reflected in actions taken subsequently by the Executive Branch and by the Congress. “One thing we do to get it right,” he said, “is to ask the users of technology what they need, rather than to advise them on what works best.”
Another feature of the STEP board’s strategy, he said, is to pay attention to what is going on across the country and around the world. This is done, in part, though collaborative symposia with policy makers and business leaders of other countries. He invited participants to take home copies of STEP symposia, including reports on bilateral meetings with Japan, India, and Belgium, and other partners. “There are lessons to be learned from others around the world,” he said, “and we make an effort to do so.”
Within the United States, he said, there is also much to be learned from best practices in state and regional economic initiatives. Particularly over the past decade, the country has witnessed a surge in state initiatives, some of it quite innovative. Dr. Wessner noted that the federal government and other organizations based in Washington, D.C., are well advised to reach out for this knowledge, because cluster development is by nature a local or regional phenomenon. The federal government can stimulate clusters and local partnerships, he said, but they tend to form around cities and organizations created within the states. “Local
leadership in these case is important,” he said, “and not something that can be mandated from Washington.” In the field of photovoltaic manufacturing, significant synergies have formed between state and federal government initiatives, including programs in Arizona, Ohio, and Colorado discussed below.
A KEY CHALLENGE:
TO BRING EXISTING TECHNOLOGIES INTO THE MARKETPLACE
The key challenge, he said, is to bring existing technologies into the marketplace. What are the best ways to accelerate the innovation and to actually deploy it? One way, he said, is through partnerships among government, industry, and academia. Under the leadership of Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, STEP had developed a ten-volume set of reports that examine different types of partnerships for commercializing technology. The general conclusion of these reports, said Dr. Wessner, is that partnerships are extremely effective when properly structured and effectively led. These partnerships include innovation award programs, state and regional consortia, science and technology parks and clusters, and—the topic of the current symposium—government-industry-academia partnerships.1
As an example, he cited the experience of the semiconductor partnership known as SEMATECH that was initiated jointly by the U.S. government and the semiconductor industry in the 1980s. Without this initiative, he said, and other steps proposed by the already-existing Semiconductor Research Corporation, the United States “might well not have the semiconductor industry that we have today.”
A key question for all technology-based economic initiatives, he said, is how to keep an industry in the United States once it is established. “In the case of photovoltaic manufacturing,” he said, “how do we capture the benefits of the federal stimulus measures and our rising R&D budgets?” One answer, he suggested, is to use both new and existing innovation partnerships to attract and support U.S.-based firms. He said that the symposium was designed to examine programs already in place, identify additional opportunities where investments can be useful, and explore the prospects for cooperative R&D. Additional themes central to the discussion, he noted, were the importance of developing technical standards to underpin the new industry and the use of industry roadmaps, such as those which have been central to the strategy of SEMATECH.
1National Research Council, Government-Industry Partnerships for the Development of New Technologies: Summary Report, Charles W. Wessner, ed., Washington, D.C.: The National Academies Press, 2003.