By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2015, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
With the dysfunction that now exists in our federal government, we no longer can look to Washington to see the kind of breakthrough ideas or initiatives that can sustainably revive this or any future sluggish economy.
That means the states will continue to be on their own. We’re going to have come up with our own strategies to build and sustain economic momentum.
The recent cycle of recessions our nation experienced was not as rough on the Oklahoma economy as it could have been; we’ve had the energy industry as a safety net. In the last few months, that’s certainly changed, and we’re faced with yet another opportunity to learn that we can’t pin a vision of a robust economic future solely on oil and gas.
Not that there haven’t been huge strides in innovation from the energy industry, there clearly have been.
But the answer to job and wage stagnation lies in the creation of new companies in advanced industries. For Oklahoma to fully compete in this century’s innovation economy, we all need to get on the same page and commit to a cohesive strategy to grow advanced industries in our state.
So how does a state like Oklahoma accomplish that?
By committing to creating a platform for innovation.
First, we invest — instead of the disinvesting Oklahoma has been doing over the last couple of years — in basic science, applied science, and then the commercialization of the resulting technologies.
With the world-class research universities and institutions here, including University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, University of Tulsa, Oklahoma Medical Research Facility, and the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, there’s an abundance of scientific activity.
In OCAST, an amazingly successful visionary initiative of our own, we have a proven road map with the 2,500-plus companies funded producing an economic return to our state of better than 20-to-1.
Second, we equip more people with science, technology, engineering and math skills. STEM occupations make up about 9 percent of our country’s workforce but drive nearly 18 percent of our gross domestic product, 58 percent of our exports, 81 percent of our patents, and 90 percent of our private research and development.
Other states are using apprenticeships, tax credits, and free tuition at community colleges for technical degrees to pump up the homegrown talent pool. And finally, we need state and local initiatives to take all the innovation already in Oklahoma and develop innovation districts that have been proven to enrich advanced industries in other states.
In today’s economy, cities, regions, and states own their own economic destinies. Will Oklahoma step up or will we be left behind?
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.