By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2014, The Oklahoma Publishing Company
Earlier this month, I wrote about Oklahoma’s overall ranking in the 2014 State New Economy Index, a study based on 25 key indicators produced by the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation.
A quick refresh: In the report, Oklahoma was ranked 48th. The report is a data-driven view of the problem that many of us who live and breathe innovation as the path to expanded jobs and wealth in Oklahoma battle every day.
But frankly, it was disconcerting surprise that only two states — Mississippi and West Virginia, homes to coal mines and those annoying kudzu plants — ranked lower than Oklahoma.
Adams Nager, an economic research assistant at the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation and author of the report, read the earlier column and contacted us. He told us that when he dug into the data analysis — and the foundation is well recognized for a history of unbiased and thorough analysis — he was surprised and very curious about Oklahoma’s result.
“Our ranking is very forward looking,” Nager said. “It’s about which states and regions are going to dominate, who has the innovative ecosystems to take an idea and turn it into marketed concepts and take basic research and turn it into economic strength.”
It wasn’t a surprise that states (for example Alaska and North Dakota) that are almost totally dependent on natural resources ranked lower on the foundation’s 25-category innovation ranking, but Nager said it was an eye-opener that Oklahoma, a state with more economic diversity and with a higher potential capacity for research and development, didn’t score well in any of the 25 different categories.
In knowledge-based jobs, we ranked 42; workforce education, 41; industry investment in R&D, 42; nonindustry investment in R&D, 45.
On the other hand, we have a start in some categories: professional and technical jobs, 30; entrepreneurial activity, 33; scientists and engineers, 38, and immigration of knowledge workers, 32.
When a state invests in innovation, it is trying to prepare for the unknown.
We don’t know what the next big new industries and technologies will be in the next 10 or 25 years; but we know that they will come and when they do, they will be driven by the innovation occurring in visionary states and regions that invest accordingly.
These 25 categories are predictors of innovation. Together they create an innovation ecosystem that allows for new companies to take and run with the research that our universities and foundations discover.
And lest we think this in only happening on the coasts, states like Utah, Washington and Colorado (all in the report’s Top 10) are forming future economies by investing in small companies in advanced industries.
According to Nager, that kind of work happens on the ground and only when the state is visionary and involved and works together with the marketplace to drive its economic evolution.
Oklahoma has a toehold; it’s time to develop a stronger grip.
It’s a big consideration for our legislators as they begin their budget process next week.
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].