States Decoding Keys to Successful Economic Partnerships
By Jennifer Ginn, CSG Associate Editor
While a double helix contains all of a person’s genetic code and greatly shapes what they can or will become, a triple helix may just contain most of the information states need to help shape what their economies will become.
The triple helix approach to economic development involves a system that allows university researchers, industry leaders and state economic development agencies to easily collaborate. These systems are called statewide research networks, said Daniel Calto, director of solution services for Elsevier, one of the world’s leading providers of science and health information. He was one of the featured speakers at a recent CSG webinar, “Private Sector, University and Government Collaboration: Partnerships for Statewide Economic Development.”
“These systems strive to create a single cohesive and searchable network making up all of the academic researchers in a state,” Calto said. “They’re freely available on the Web and they allow others, including industry scientists and government policymakers, to search for specific kinds of research expertise.”
North Carolina is home to the country’s largest statewide research networking systems, with almost 9,000 researcher profiles from 19 higher education and research institutions in the state. Called the Research, Engagement and Capabilities Hub of North Carolina—or REACH NC—the network allows anyone to view profiles that contain information like a researcher’s expertise, recent publications and grants. It turns a once haphazard process into a simpler, more methodical search.
“It often took several phone calls and days, maybe even a week or two, to find the right person to talk to, to help you with your technical question or collaboration,” said Sharlini Sankaran, executive director of REACH NC. “REACH NC was really born out of this idea of making university expertise more easily accessible to the general pubic, to other university researchers and to economic developers.”
Sankaran said having such information easily available makes it easier to convince high-tech companies that North Carolina has the expertise they need. Sankaran said North Carolina Secretary of Commerce Sharon Decker used REACH NC to convince a vaccine manufacturer looking to expand operations in the state that the state had the breadth and depth of knowledge the company needed.
Sankaran said the website has had more than 230,000 visitors during the past 12 months, with more than 216,000 of them being unique visitors. “That’s about 1,000 hits a day,” she said.
States need to be able to showcase their expertise, Calto said. The competition for research and development dollars, and the potentially lucrative startups that may result, is only getting tougher.
“The changes in global expenditures in (research and development) have been growing faster than the growth of the world’s economy,” Calto said. “Chinese R&D spending has been growing 22 percent per annum over the last decade and a half, It’s growing so fast that even countries like the U.S. and Germany, which have been increasing their R&D spending at the rate of inflation or more, have seen their shares of world R&D spending shrink rapidly.”
Countries like China, India and South Korea have been actively increasing their R&D spending and investments because it pays off in the long term, he said.
“Decades of economic studies have shown that investment in basic and applied research pay off with very large net positive impacts,” said Calto.
While universities can provide research expertise and entrepreneurs can help turn those discoveries into business startups,” he said, “state policymakers can do their part by providing stable financing for universities, support business incubators and help reduce the red tape for fledgling businesses.
“If they can create a healthy ecosystem for competition, that can be very helpful,” he said.
If a state’s efforts to support university research and startups is successful, Calto noted, the rewards can be substantial.
“(Massachusetts Institute of Technology) graduates alone have started over 25,800 active companies,” Calto said. “If the companies founded by MIT graduates formed an independent nation, the revenues for that nation would make it the 17th largest economy in the world.”
Those companies generate hundreds of billions of dollars and more than a million jobs in the U.S. and more than $2 trillion in annual sales globally, he said.