New initiative creates tech. plan for state

Legislation would codify and add to existing initiatives to revitalize Minnesota’s economy.

James Nord

A group of private companies and public officials, including the University of Minnesota, are attempting to improve the climate of technology-based business in the state. The Minnesota Science and Technology Authority Act, which is moving through the Legislature, would elevate an existing state agency hoping to revitalize the state in the âÄúknowledge economy.âÄù According to a report prepared for the Legislature, while Minnesota has been a leader in technology-related business, the state has slipped recently. Minnesota currently ranks 14th-17th in science and technology innovation and is âÄúaccelerating downward,âÄù according to the report. Technology jobs have declined 11 percent since 2001. âÄúWe have taken our success for granted and we can no longer afford to do that,âÄù said the billâÄôs Senate author, Kathy Saltzman, DFL-Woodbury. If passed, the bill would create an authority dedicated to coordinating between private and public entities, including the University, to secure federal research funding. Additionally, it would attempt to create a comprehensive technology strategy for the state and to help in technology commercialization. Although significant money and initiatives exist currently, a lack of comprehensive organization stifles their usefulness, University Vice President for Research Tim Mulcahy said. At least 28 other states have initiatives like this proposal in place. âÄúWe have to be able to compete [in] this global economy, and right now weâÄôve kind of got one hand tied behind our back because we really donâÄôt have adequate public policy and investment strategy to make the whole state competitive,âÄù Mulcahy said. Previously, Minnesota faced competition from the coasts, but such initiatives in other states like Wisconsin have brought it closer to home, Saltzman said. The bill would affect the University across the spectrum, not only in technology commercialization, but in shaping teaching methods to conform to a different workforce and inviting further research opportunities. The University, which conducts more than 96 percent of the research in the state, Mulcahy said, will be vital to the success of the partnership. Currently, Minnesota ranks 23rd in businesses created from university research and development, according to the report. âÄúWhat weâÄôre trying to create with a bill like this is a continuum from discovery and innovation all the way through product development, job growth and company formation,âÄù Mulcahy said. The University recently licensed integrative biology professor Doris TaylorâÄôs research for a novel heart technology to a private company, Miromatrix Medical Inc. The authority would aid companies such as this in bridging the gap between research and the final product. âÄúObviously all of us want to commercialize our technology because we want to make a difference in peopleâÄôs lives,âÄù Taylor said. Although the bill is only a first step because no funding has been appropriated for the authority, Mulcahy said itâÄôs an important one. He said it is difficult to ask for funding during an economic downturn. âÄúRight now, legislators and the governor are concerned about public policy that will help turn the economy around,âÄù state economist and University professor Tom Stinson said. âÄúTheir time horizon is much shorter than that necessary to promote adequate investment in [research and development].âÄù