By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2014, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
The Oklahoma legislative session kicks off the first week of February. In the weeks following that, our elected officials will be hammering out the budget for the upcoming year.
There’s a lot to think about. With the price of crude oil dropping by about 50 percent from a year ago, there is going to be pressure to hunker down. And appropriately so. We understand all too well the impacts of the cyclical nature of the energy industry.
And that’s exactly the reason that one of the worst things that we could do as a state is adopt a foxhole mentality when it comes to innovation.
Instead, as we are reminded once again that the oil industry both giveth and taketh away, we must reaffirm our commitment to diversifying Oklahoma’s economy by investing in the state’s advanced technology sector.
And it’s not like we need to go out and create a bunch of new initiatives or infrastructure to do that.
In the Oklahoma Center for Advancement of Science and Technology, we have a gem of a state agency that has been proven over the last 27 years to produce measurable results.
To echo a recent editorial in this paper, OCAST has funded more than 2,500 science and research projects, using the $253 million in cumulative legislative allocations to produce $5.2 billion in private and federal investment. That’s a return of better than 20:1!
i2E Inc. partners with OCAST in company and job creation. Our clients have built new companies that produce more than $53 million in annualized payroll, with 824 full-time equivalent positions with average annual wages of $74,935. That’s 87 percent higher than the Oklahoma average annual wage of $40,123.
This is what OCAST and i2E were established to do — find new ways to help inventors and entrepreneurs create new technologies and build companies that create future high-paying jobs.
Oklahoma’s vision for OCAST 27 years ago is a reality now. A vision is just a vision until it produces results — then it’s a success.
OCAST’s budget in 2014 was reduced again to $16.8 million, down a third off the $24.5 million that it was in 2008. That, in turn, has limited OCAST to funding only about half the projects that it believes worthy.
Imagine how Oklahoma might have benefited had OCAST been able to fund more of the projects that were turned down.
It’s pretty straightforward. The more money the state puts into OCAST, the more money the state gets out.
Scott Meacham is president and CEO of i2E Inc., a nonprofit corporation that mentors many of the state’s technology-based startup companies. i2E receives state appropriations from the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. Contact Meacham at i2E_Comments@i2E.org.
Did You Know? The respondents to i2E’s 2014 Economic Impact Survey from the Oklahoma City MSA reported 506 total full-time equivalent employees, with 146 new full-time equivalent workers in 2013, a 40 percent growth rate.