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May 16, 2001

Boehlert, R&D leaders make case for R&D investments in New York

New York State has lost ground to some key competitors in the competition for federal research dollars and in the economic growth these research projects often generate, U.S. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-New Hartford), chair of the House Committee on Science, told New York business, government, and academic leaders May 14.

"Many of the states ahead of us in R&D receipts were barely in the research game 10 or 20 years ago," Boehlert, chair of the House Committee on Science, told business, academic, and government leaders at The Public Policy Institute's annual Issues Forum. "But states like Forida and Texas have been making wise investments, improving their universities and spawning businesses in places like the high-tech corridor in Austin."

"We need to learn from their examples," he added.

Boehlert delivered the keynote address at the event, which this year focused on how New York can foster economic growth through strategic investments in research and development. He and five academic and industrial R&D experts who spoke after Boehlert outlined a strong case for an aggressive state commitment to R&D.

"For too long, New York has been complacent," he said. "Blinded by our long-time preeminence, our outstanding history, our long list of accomplishments, we have paid too little notice as our leadership role ebbed away. That is the way with empires, and it has been our way as the Empire State.">

Investments in R&D in New York "need to be strategic, driven by assessments of real strengths," Boehlert said. Strengths that could be the basis R&D investments in New York include its outstanding universities and corporate leaders such as IBM, Kodak, and Corning. These companies, Boehlert said, both have a commitment to R&D and know the value of lobbying government to intensify its own R&D investments.

The federal government, for its part, should ensure that its own research programs are aggressively funded, he said, adding that he considers research funding in the Bush administration's budget "inadequate."

Businesses can help persuade Washington to invest more in R&D by telling them, clearly and forcefully, how important this investment is. On this account, he added, the business community should be more aggressive than it has been in the past.

The five industry and academic R&D specialists echoed Congressman Boehlert's support for R&D as an engine of economic growth. Each panelist outlined the specific research interests and projects of his or her instituton. Speakers also discussed their institutions' approaches to developing collaborations and commercializing the fruits of research.

Richard Jarman, director of advanced manufacturing affairs for Kodak, said collaboration among industrial and academic institutions will help bridge the chasm that often separates the basic research enterprise from the development of viable commercial products. Jarman outlined the planned Center of Excellence in Photonics and Microsystems that Kodak, Corning Incorporated, and Xerox are planning in Rochester in collaboration with universities there.

Jarman said this research center's vision is "a booming economic zone of industry/university/government collaboration" that would run from Albany to Buffalo as a kind of "technology Thruway for the 21st Century." He emphasized that collaboration among institutions is the key to making this vision reality.

Yacov Shamash, dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences at SUNY-Stony Brook, sketched some of the advances promised by research in information technology and biotechnology. He said the state's investments research would foster university-industry collaborations to develop new technologies in these areas, promote the development of new enterprises, and help established businesses and industry sectors evolve to take advantage of research progress.

Alain Kaloyeros, executive director of the Institute for Materials Research and Applied Sciences at SUNY-Albany, outlined potential advances that could emerge from a major new research initiative in nanoelectronics that the University at Albany is developing. Research in this center will attempt to bridge parts of the R&D process that are too often discrete: idea development, R&D, the training of workers in the emerging field, the prototyping of new products based on the research, and the introduction of new products to the market. (Nanotechnology focuses on developing devices that are so small that they are measured in molecules. It is a crucial frontier in technology because, as a rule, chip performance improves and cost per unit decreases as computer chips become smaller.)

Stephen Tanksley, professor and chair of the Genomics Initiative at Cornell University, discussed the intellectual and economic potential of the human genome project (a massive effort to decipher the genetic code of human beings) and of the fields of genomics and life sciences in general. He noted that the life-sciences industry is already one of the fastest-growing segments of New York's economy, and one in which growth can happen virtually anywhere. But he added that any growth in this industry is unlikely without a carefully planned and sustained government investment in R&D in the life sciences.

A new life sciences-based economy could have far-reaching effects on many fields, Tanksley said. He cited health care (in which life sciences research could lead to development of new pharmaceutical agents that narrowly target specific diseases or organs), manufacturing (because plants and microbes can become a new source of raw materials for manufacturing processes), agriculture (in which life sciences research would lead to more environment-friendly agricultural techniques and foods engineered with specific assets), and engineering (because life sciences research promises advances in molecular engineering and nanotechnology).

Ofra Weinberger, director of health sciences at Columbia University's Columbia Innovation Enterprise (CIE), outlined the history and successes of that operation, which oversees technology-transfer efforts for the university. Nothing that "the university is not the ivory tower that we once thought it was," she said that Columbia has produced more technology-licensing income than any other university in the country. Since CIE was established to oversee this effort in July of 1994, it has produced about $636 million in total revenues for Columbia, with a significant increase in annual revenues in the last year, she noted. Some 228 companies have taken licenses from the university's portfolio of patents, she added.