Science, tech hold key to economic balance

November 29, 2006

Kimberly Ovitt, Director of Communication & Institutional Advancement
(480)727-8688 |

By Rob Melnick (The Arizona Republic on November 26, 2006)

The metro Phoenix economy needs to balance its portfolio. Achieving this will require bold thinking, big investments and, most of all, patience.

Unless we create opportunities for all types of workers, we run the risk of forever being known as a place that’s utterly dependent on the "growth engine" and that lacks imagination.

Something is being said a lot these days and it’s worth restating: The metro area must increasingly include economic activities based on innovation in science and technology, which creates high-paying jobs with upstream and downstream benefits.

Unfortunately, this concept remains poorly understood in the region.

We talk a better game than we play when it comes to the public-investment strategies and policy tools necessary to be truly attractive to science-driven industries.

But balancing the portfolio via more investments and policies that favor science and technology shouldn’t mean a wholesale departure from the past. Not everyone in metro Phoenix is going to become a scientist or technologist.

Regions with healthy economies need to develop a range of jobs and new business enterprises.

Quality jobs can be found in every industry, and we have a strong tradition in tourism, finance, real estate, construction and health care.

But what’s new and what we need to embrace is the fact that everyone who works in metro Phoenix - restaurant workers, construction managers, educators and scientists alike - will benefit from a diversified economy increasingly powered by science, technology and knowledge. That type of economy leads to more public revenue, greater resilience to inevitable economic downturns and better opportunities for well-educated home-grown talent.

To me, "balancing our portfolio" means deliberately and thoughtfully taking actions that make us a serious competitor in the knowledge economy while recognizing that our traditional economic strengths will remain vitally important to many residents.

Lots of traditional jobs are created here each year. And we’ve recently invested in some important new assets to stimulate science and technology research and knowledge- economy industries. But competitor states and regions have made investments in science and technology that make ours pale in comparison. Thus, the reality check is that we shouldn’t kid ourselves about what it takes to "run with the big dogs."

Or, as a recent Arizona Republic article said: We’re just "halfway there "

We need to stay the knowledge-economy course and keep investing, even when the going gets tough. At the same time, we must not abandon our traditional economic strengths. The hard part will be having the patience to allow knowledge-economy investments to mature and maintaining the political will to wait until that ship pulls in.

Melnick is associate vice president for economic affairs, public policy and chief administrator for the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University, Tempe. He is responsible for programs and activities to enhance ASU’s contribution to the economic well-being of the state and region.

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