Sunday, February 04, 2001

New Economy

Ohio's needs overwhelm measly budget

        Frankly, I wouldn't want to be Ohio Gov. Bob Taft.

        Last week, he proposed what amounts to an austerity budget for the state for 2002 and 2003. We've got below-average incomes and below-average college graduation rates. The state lags in any number of measures of New Economy progress, and while Mr. Taft tries to energize technology in Ohio, he's got to recapitalize K-12 education and improve services to the disadvantaged.

        Proposed funding for technology programs did make some gains. In 2001, that funding totaled $155.6 million. The governor proposes raising that to $189.6 million in 2002 and to $219.1 million in 2003 — a 41 percent increase in two years.

        On its face, not bad. But when we say “technology,” we mean biomedical or information technologies. The state's technology budget contains about $40 million annually for agricultural research (not a New Economy industry, but not insignificant) and about $9.5 million around coal, almost all of it new spending.

        Take that out, and 2003's $219.1 million becomes about $180 million.

What's new

        In that budget, there are several new programs. Most aggressive is the Ohio Plan $40 million over two years to develop biotech, IT and nanotechnology in Ohio universities.

        There's $6 million for biomedical research expansion grants, helping grow research at Ohio State University in Columbus, the University of Cincinnati and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. The research challenge grant program, which gives universities money based on how much in federal research grants they land, grows $10 million over two years to $26.1 million in 2003.

        There are no increases, however, for Technology Action grants, frozen at $15.1 million annually. The Thomas Edison Program for technology transfer is funded at $25.6 million, up 0.3 percent in 2003. There also are no increases for the Ohio Supercomputer Center, computer science graduate education or the eminent scholar program.

        That pot of money needs to be spread across three big cities, three medium cities and an impoverished Appalachia. Frank Samuel, science and technology adviser to the governor, said the state will invest in projects that have the best chance of getting federal and industrial support.

Long and short of it

        Short term, Ohio will make focused investments in specific technologies where the state might have an edge. Long term, the state needs to increase enrollments at its universities, and persuade more of those graduates to stay here, he said.

        At some point, though, the local communities are responsible for their success. “I think that government can help to create infrastructure and help to create access, and can help to create some incentives for capital,” Mr. Samuel said.

        “Beyond that, government can't do a lot. Entrepreneurial activity has got to be led by leaders in the community. It can't be led by state governments or local governments. It's got to be led by a combination of the business sector and the universities.”

        E-mail John Byczkowski at or call (513) 768-8377. Find a list of local New Economy companies at


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