An important theme in nanotechnology is state government pushing for economic development through funding of nanotechnology high-tech start-up companies and university technology transfer. Adding to this push, a recent report suggests that state governments should increasingly fund “home grown” high-tech start-ups rather than provide money to established companies. Home grown, turns out, provides better return for the state. The report, titled "Good Jobs, Strong Industries, a Better Pennsylvania: Towards a 21st Century State Economic Development Policy," was prepared by the Keystone Research Center and focused on developing jobs in Pennsylvania (see, for example, March 21, 2010 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, D1, summarizing the report, case studies, and its implications). The reports’ implications, however, are national. In addition, the Keystone report also advocated for more transparency in how the state funding money is used and the results of the funding.
Pennsylvania, with its strong history in the chemical and materials sectors, continues to promote nanotechnology and university technology transfer as engines for economic growth. For example, the Pennsylvania NanoMaterials Commercialization Center (Pa NanoCenter) continues to promote nanotechnology companies, as discussed at a February 24, 2010 panel session at the Enterprise Forum Pittsburgh. The panel featured inputs from a state government manager for economic development (Dr. Thomas Armstrong), as well as nanotechnology start-up companies such as Crystalplex, Corp., Integran, and nanoGriptech, LLC. In addition, Bayer MaterialsScience also participated in the panel and provided large company perspective (emphasizing the need for high volume production). Pa NanoCenter’s executive director, Alan Brown, moderated the panel and provided larger context for how government, universities, small companies, and large companies collectively advance job growth. Armstrong also reviewed Pennsylvania’s efforts at promoting university technology transfer (Armstrong is author of a recent paper on the subject titled, "Technology Transfer and the Keystone Innovation Grant Initiative.")
Pittsburgh was a suitable site for this excellent panel discussion. For example, economic development efforts based on innovation should continue to remember the experience of George Westinghouse and his Westinghouse companies, centered in Pittsburgh, PA over one hundred years ago. Westinghouse, working in a different environment over a hundred years ago, believed in developing ideas into products, products into companies, and companies into jobs, as explained in the excellent 112 minute documentary DVD called “Westinghouse.” Westinghouse proved early on that the development of one company provides synergy for the development of another company (a ripple effect). Patenting can be an important aspect of economic development as companies compete for leadership to control a market, as Westinghouse aggressively filed for and bought patents.
Today, in a different economic generation one hundred years later, perhaps state governments such as Pennsylvania’s can help provide the unifying vision for economic development – generating synergy and ripple effects – that in the past was provided by economic giants like Westinghouse as ideas turn into products, companies, and jobs.