By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2014, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
Oklahoma had a clear vision for its future when the Oklahoma Center for Science and Technology (OCAST) was formed — to create a unique agency focused exclusively on technology-based economic development. Our intention was to diversify Oklahoma’s energy and agriculture-based economy through research, technology transfer, seed capital, and support to advanced manufacturing.
Whether you’re in Austin, Texas; San Jose, Calif.; or Ardmore, these are the cornerstones of every innovation economy. Oklahoma recognized that in the ’80s — it was truly visionary. The return on the state’s investment to date has been approximately 21-to-1.
However, even with these incredible results, we’ve blinked. OCAST’s appropriation has been reduced five times and its appropriation as a percentage of the total state appropriations has fallen every single year since 2008. In this budget cycle, in addition to a 5.5 percent cut, $2 million each was cut from the i2ESeed Capital fund and the Oklahoma Research Support fund.
Here’s something to consider.
If OCAST appropriations had remained at the 2008 level instead of being reduced in the intervening years, that additional state investment alone would have produced an additional $556 million return-on-investment while requiring only an additional $26.5 million in funding (less than 1 percent of the state’s total annual budget).
Oklahoma is losing opportunities to create jobs and wealth because of our lack of investment in science and technology innovation and commercialization.
“We need to invest strategically in science and technology-based commercialization efforts because those things create the high-paying jobs that give us the basis for diversifying and growing our economy,” said Michael Carolina, OCAST executive director. “We can scale at a lower rate, but we are sub-optimizing what we could be doing. There is pent-up demand for health and basic research, investment capital through i2E, and all the new advanced manufacturing technologies from sensors to 3D printing.”
We have the wealth generators in Oklahoma — energy, aerospace, agriculture. Clearly, we are currently reaping the benefits of the latest energy boom. However, we have been here before and know that energy has historically been volatile both with respect to price and the development of new sources of supply. The danger is that we take our eye off the innovation ball now that energy is again on the rise.
Instead of cutting back on investment in innovation, we need to think about how we continue to build the economy of our future. That was the goal more than 25 years ago when OCAST was created and funded by the legislature.
Less research produces fewer viable technologies. Entrepreneurs found fewer companies.
Oklahoma misses the opportunity for more high-paying jobs, wealth creation and the building of our future economy.
Hopefully, we can somehow reverse the trend of hobbling our ability to leverage the invention and technology that feeds our pipeline of new company growth.
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 [email protected].