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Investing in tomorrow’s technology

Suppose you knew, in 1950, how computers and information technology would evolve in the next 50 years. Would it have made economic sense to invest in institutions that did research and development in computing-related fields?
Of course. This technology propelled much of the progress and prosperity of the 20th century. The institutions, companies, and states that nurtured its development are benefiting to this day.
Now, consider two less fanciful questions: What technology in the next 50 years will produce economic benefits comparable to those produced by computers? And how should New York invest in science, engineering and technology development so it can share in the progress and prosperity that will result?
The answer to the first question, many experts think, lies somewhere in the life sciences-biology, genetics, biotechnology, bioinformation or some combination of these fields. These experts note that life-sciences R&D can lead to new drugs and methods of drug discovery, new understanding of disease, and new genetic-engineering techniques that can improve plants’ disease resistance and nutritional value.
The potential, for economic gain and improvements to our quality of life, is huge. That’s why a number of states already are investing hundreds of millions of dollars in R&D to make sure that some of this prosperity comes to their states.
Thankfully, New York is now moving to keep pace. The majority Republicans in the Senate have introduced a new proposal called Generating Employment Through New York Science, or GEN*NY*SIS for short. Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno is championing this proposal, with strong support from Sens. James Alesi, chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Commerce, Michael Nozzolio and George Maziarz.
If approved, GEN*NY*SIS would generate a total public and private investment of some $500 million over five years. Specifically, these investments would include:
— $150 million in matching grants to help universities and research institutions attract and retain researchers, fund new lab construction and expansions, provide state-of-the-art equipment, and fund a new “James D. Watson Young Investigators Program” to reward and encourage innovation by New York-based Ph.D. researchers.
— $75 million to help new biotechnology companies obtain buildings and equipment, provide worker training, and secure working capital. These funds also would help create biotechnology-based business parks.
— $45 million for tax credits designed to stimulate job growth. These include creation of “life sciences development zones” within which the existing R&D tax credits would be more than doubled, to 20 percent, for employers that create jobs in biotechnology.
The GEN*NY*SIS proposal is timely-because without it, New York will fall behind other states in investments in life sciences-related projects.
— California is investing $300 million in new research centers dedicated to nanotechnology, biotechnology, and telecommunications and computing. Corporate participants will pitch in more than twice that amount.
— Illinois has developed VentureTech, a five-year, $1.9 billion program in education and research and development, health sciences, biotechnology and information technology.
— Michigan is investing its entire share of tobacco-settlement funds in a new Michigan Life Sciences Corridor Fund to be driven by research universities.
These states know that such investments will help their research institutions compete for research grants from federal agencies that usually require matching funds from grant-seekers. They also know that now’s the time for such investments-because the federal budget for such research is dramatically increasing.
This should be a wake-up call to New York. We’re falling behind other states in attracting federal grants for such projects. New York once outranked all other states in attracting grants from the National Institutes of Health, but it has fallen to third and is now drawing $400 million a year less than it did when it ranked first.
New York’s business community has long endorsed greater and more strategic state investments in research and development in these areas. The Business Council is strongly supporting greater public investment in these areas and others, such as photonics, information technology and nanotechnology.
Last June, the Business Council co-sponsored, with Cornell University and other major research institutions, a two-day conference on the economic development potential associated with genomics and the life sciences.
And in November, the council sponsored a panel discussion involving industry and academic leaders in technology on the topic of collaborative technology-development ventures involving government, business and research institutions.
We believe that life sciences will produce the technology-driven booms of the future. Now is the time to invest in that future.
(Daniel B. Walsh is president and CEO of the Business Council of New York State.)

12/29/00–Rochester Business Journal

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