In October 2005, the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine released a policy report that served as a call to action. Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future observed that “the scientific and technological building blocks critical to [the United States’] economic leadership are eroding at a time when many other nations are gathering strength.” The report laid out 20 recommendations in four broad areas—K-12 education, science and engineering research, higher education, and economic and technology policy—and warned that a failure to take action could have dire economic consequences. As the committee that wrote the Gathering Storm report concluded, “we fear the abruptness with which a lead in science and technology can be lost— and the difficulty of recovering a lead once lost.”
Rising Above the Gathering Storm sparked intense discussions among policy makers, industrial leaders, and the general public. (See Box 1-1, “The Origins and Aftermath of Rising Above the Gathering Storm” at the end of this chapter.) Five years after the release of the Gathering Storm report, a second report, Rising Above the Gathering Storm, Revisited: Rapidly Approaching Category 5, assessed changes in America’s competitive posture. That report concluded that “our nation’s outlook has not improved but rather has worsened” since the Gathering Storm report was released. The report noted examples of other nations that have upgraded their investments in education, technological infrastructure, and innovation systems to a greater extent than has the United States. “In summary,” the follow-up report concluded, “the outlook for America to compete for quality jobs has still further deteriorated over the past 5 years.”
FOCUSING ATTENTION ON STATES AND REGIONS
The federal government is not the only source of policy actions that can enhance U.S. competitiveness. States and regions within the United States can also contribute to building their capacity for innovation.1 Areas of intensive innovative activity are scattered throughout the United States—often near major research universities—and all states are interested in strengthening these capabilities.
The ability of the states to drive innovation was the impetus behind a major workshop held in Madison, Wisconsin, on September 20-22, 2011. Entitled “Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Developing Regional Innovation Environments,” the workshop brought together leaders in education, government, economic development, and industrial innovation to discuss state and regional initiatives to boost competitiveness through science, technology, and innovation. The conference—which was sponsored by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, the Morgridge Institute for Research, and the National Research Council—was organized around four major themes:
• Revitalizing K-12 Science and Mathematics Education
• Strengthening Undergraduate Education in Science and Engineering
• Building Effective Partnerships Among Governments, Universities, Companies, and Other Stakeholders
• Fostering Regional Technology Development and Entrepreneurship
The presentations given in each of these four areas are summarized in chapters 2 through 5 of this report. Chapter 6 provides a list of observations and recommendations made by individual participants in the conference’s final open-ended discussion. The report has been prepared by the workshop rapporteurs as a factual summary of what occurred at the workshop. The planning committee’s role was limited to planning and convening the workshop. The views contained in the report are those of individual workshop participants and do not necessarily represent the views of all workshop participants, the planning committee, or the National Research Council.
AN INNOVATIVE APPROACH
The conference was held at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, which Judith Kimble, Henry Vilas Professor and Howard Hughes Medical
1 There is an extensive literature on state and regional innovation. One recent collection of insights and perspectives is Charles W. Wessner, Rapporteur; National Research Council. Growing Innovation Clusters for American Prosperity: Summary of a Symposium, Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2011.
Institute investigator at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, described in her opening remarks as the “physical embodiment of the principles of Rising Above the Gathering Storm.” (See Box 1-2.) The Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery is a public-private partnership consisting of the private not-for-profit Morgridge Institute for Research and the public Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. Located in a new state-of-the-art facility, it brings together scientists from a broad spectrum of disciplines to conduct research, translate discoveries into applications, enhance cross-disciplinary education, and reach out to the public. As Tashia Morgridge, founding trustee of the Morgridge Institute for Research, said in her opening remarks, the institute has, “as the kids would say, buzz.” John Morgridge, chairman emeritus of the Board at Cisco Systems, borrowed a term from his grand-daughters to describe the institute: “awesome.”
Judith Kimble: “This isn’t about making one region strong at the expense of another. We want to make every region in the country strong.”
Carl Gulbrandsen, the managing director of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, said that the great strength of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery is the ability “to leverage the human capital and the infrastructure of a great public research university, and … leverage the nimbleness and the flexibility of a private research institute.” The institution does not have departments, just research themes. The building includes teaching laboratories on each floor, research space, and space for community involvement. “We wanted young people to get excited about science and want to be scientists,” said Gulbrandsen. “We wanted people to have fun.”
Another great strength of the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery, said Kimble, is that it is engaged in a positive sum game. Research and education undertaken at the institution make the region stronger while also benefiting the broader society, as the results of research and people trained at the institution move elsewhere. The same can be said of state and regional approaches to innovation in general. Kimble said, “This isn’t about making one region strong at the expense of another. We want to make every region in the country strong.”
C. D. Mote, Jr.: “The United States has taken actions, but they are too little, they are without long-term commitment, they do not engage those responsible, and they do not reflect an appreciation of the accelerating advancement of other countries.”
The Origins and Aftermath of Rising Above the Gathering Storm
On May 11, 2005, Senator Lamar Alexander delivered a talk entitled “The Next Big Surprise” at the annual meeting of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). He predicted that within one or two decades other countries would close the economic gap between themselves and the United States. “We need to work together to ensure that our current prosperity is passed on to the next generation,” he said.
This talk ignited a “congressional brushfire,” said C. D. Mote, Jr., Regents Professor and former President of the University of Maryland, in his remarks at the Madison workshop. On May 27, 2005, the NAS received a bipartisan letter from the Senate requesting responses to specific questions on how to maintain U.S. preeminence in science and technology in the 21st century. On June 30, the NAS received a bipartisan letter containing similar questions from the House of Representatives and requesting a response within 90 days.
Within a few weeks, the NAS, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine, through their Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy, formed a 20-member committee that included Nobel laureates, the directors of national laboratories, university presidents, corporate chief executives, and former government officials. Chaired by Norman Augustine, former president and chief executive officer of Lockheed Martin Corporation, the committee met in the summer of 2005 to decide on the top federal policy actions to ensure that the United States would be able to compete, prosper, and be secure in the 21st century.
When the report was released in October of that year, it contained recommendations in four broad areas. The report’s highest priority was K-12 science and mathematics education, with a particular focus on the supply of high-quality teachers. The report’s second broad recommendation was to support basic research and transformational ideas in science and engineering. The report’s third
To Learn More
Additional information about the workshop is available at: http://sites.nationalacademies.org/PGA/COSEPUP/index.htm
Video of the workshop plenary sessions is available at: http://vimeo.com/album/1748515
major recommendation was to attract the best and the brightest into science and technology from both the United States and other countries. And the fourth general recommendation was to create incentives for innovation that would make the United States the premier place in the world to innovate, invest, and create high-paying jobs.
Actions corresponding with many of the report’s 20 detailed recommendations were authorized in the America COMPETES Act of 2007. Funds for some provisions of America COMPETES were appropriated in the 2008 supplemental budget. Funding for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), which was recommended in the Gathering Storm report as a way of undertaking high-risk and potentially high-payoff energy ventures, was appropriated in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), passed in 2009. Some provisions of America COMPETES have not been funded.
The America COMPETES Act was reauthorized in January 2011. But action on many of the recommendations in the Gathering Storm report remains stalled because of constrained resources and political differences in the federal government. “The United States has taken actions,” said Mote in his workshop remarks, “but they are too little, they are without long-term commitment, they do not engage those responsible, and they do not reflect an appreciation of the accelerating advancement of other countries. It’s fair to conclude that a top priority commitment to U.S. global competitiveness in science and technology is not U.S. policy.”
Mote noted that Rising Above the Gathering Storm focused on federal actions but that its recommendations extended well past the domain of the federal government. States and localities play major roles in improving K-12 education, accelerating regional economic development, fostering competitiveness within the private sector, and many other issues. “That’s why this conference is so important,” he said, “because regional and state actions have to be a part of [the solution] if it’s going to work.”