By Scott Meacham
Copyright © 2019, The Oklahoman
Oklahoma is a great place to live. Oklahoma is a great place to work.
We are a state that seems ready to seize the moment and leverage the quality of life and business-friendly advantages here to add innovation and technology-based economic development to Oklahoma’s list of “greats.”
Unemployment is down; the economy is moving along. As legislators and business leaders, we should be asking ourselves every day: How do we create a sustainable model that creates more and better paying jobs in Oklahoma even when the economy stalls at some point in the future?
This is a transformational opportunity that we as a state can address. We already know how to do it — and we have the proven tools.
OCAST (the Oklahoma Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology) and its public-private partnership of i2E, the Oklahoma Manufacturing Alliance and the New Product Development Center, collectively known as the Oklahoma Innovation Model, provide a unique set of networked capabilities that supports and grows STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) activity in our state across the commercial spectrum.
The Oklahoma Innovation Model attracts and unites scientific researchers, inventors, entrepreneurs and manufactures. This proven approach, creates high-paying jobs ($99 million in annual payroll from i2E companies), builds wealth (these jobs average 73 percent more than the state average), and attracts (from high cost of living states) and keeps (from Oklahoma’s world-class universities) talent.
At this moment, if we want to seize the opportunity, we need to invest in these activities that advance the application of our state’s research and development to local companies that create high paying jobs.
Since 2008, OCAST’s budget has been cut by nearly 40 percent — from about $22 million down to $13.4 million, which means almost $8 million less a year goes into priming Oklahoma’s STEM-based economy.
Last year, OCAST received 145 research applications that were deemed “qualified-for-funding” by outside peer review and rigorous vetting. There was enough funding for only 74 of these. Given OCAST’s historical return on investment of 22:1, Oklahoma left 71 great opportunities for growth on the table.
With a relatively small investment, Oklahoma could be in a position to reap the return of these unfunded opportunities.
Increased STEM activity and a STEM pipeline isn’t a nice-to-have. It is a necessity for Oklahoma to compete effectively in the knowledge and digital economy of the 21st Century. Technical disruptions in data and data analytics, precision medicine, precision agriculture, augmented realty, virtual reality, quantum computing and artificial intelligence are changing the world — and advances in all these areas are being developed in labs and startups right here in Oklahoma.
Not seizing opportunity hurts us all. Conversely, a rising tide of technology-based economic development will lift all our boats.
An innovation economy attracts talent, creates jobs and builds wealth while boosting state revenues, which can then be used to fund critical areas — education, health care, public safety and human services.
There’s the reason to invest in an economic model that we know works. It can make Oklahoma a Top 10 state.
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