By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2019, The Oklahoman
Innovate. Innovate. Innovate. That’s the common theme in today’s economy. Innovation stimulates entrepreneurship. Successful entrepreneurship creates net new jobs.
Driving innovation through collaboration to create jobs is the entire reason for being of the public-private consortium of the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology (OCAST), the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance (OMA), the Oklahoma State University New Product Development Center (NPDC) and i2E.
Through our four-way strategic partnership, the Oklahoma Innovation Model, which has been more than 20 years in the making and is nationally acknowledged as best in class, kick-started and continues to drive the innovation economy here, complementing but never diminishing Oklahoma’s long-standing reliance on energy, agriculture, and aerospace.
“We help create high-paying jobs, seed ideas and start and support companies across multiple sectors. These are things that we do every day — things that result in more state and local tax revenues from wages and sales,” said C. Michael Carolina, OCAST Executive Director. “These taxes help to support our schools, build or improve roads and bridges, and support the core functions of government.”
Over the past 20 years, i2E client companies have been responsible for 3,283 new jobs paying wages that average 73 percent higher than the average wage in Oklahoma.
These young companies pay corporate taxes, invent products and services that draw revenue into Oklahoma from other countries and states, create high-paying jobs and offer exciting career opportunities. They help encourage the outstanding graduates of Oklahoma colleges and universities to put roots here, buy homes and cars, raise families and support our public schools.
The more successful the new companies are in top-line revenue, bottom-line profitability and gross margins, the more taxes paid and the more potential dollars that the state can plow back into research and development, thus perpetuating the cycle of innovation and job creation.
In his State of the State address, Gov. Kevin Stitt set forth a vision of making Oklahoma a Top 10 State based on reimagined possibilities and renewed accountability. He emphasized leadership, measurable goals and metrics, and a sense of individual responsibility.
Gov. Stitt is expressing the 2019 version of the legislative vision that created OCAST in 1987, authorized the seed capital fund (TBFP Fund) in 1988 and has continued to invest in the Oklahoma Model of innovation. Last year, for every $1 the state appropriated to OCAST for science and technology, the state realized a return of $34.
OCAST is Oklahoma’s only agency with the sole focus of technology-based economic development. In 2018, 145 research applications received by OCAST were deemed “qualified-for-funding” by outside peer review and rigorous vetting. Because of funding cuts, OCAST was able to fund only 74 of the 145 approved projects.
That means 71 approved research projects went unfunded due to budget constraints. Given OCAST’s historical return on investment this translates to significant lost opportunity in jobs, industry diversification and tax revenue to our state.
Becoming a Top Ten state is a worthy and achievable goal for this state. To be that competitive on a national and global scale we must reimagine. We must accelerate innovation. That means investing strategically and investing more in the things that have proven to work.
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