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ViewPoint: Investing in the talent and innovation future of Mass.

Mar. 23, 2015 | News Article

Boston Business Journal
ViewPoint: Investing in the talent and innovation future of Mass.

We are lucky to live in a region widely recognized for its leadership in economic development, driven by our intellectual capital and highly educated workforce. Massachusetts boasts five universities in the top rankings of research universities and over 110 institutions of higher education total, a fountain of new ideas and the talent to accomplish those ideas. We are acknowledged as a global innovation leader in life sciences, health care, IT, energy, defense technologies, finance and education. In life sciences, all 10 of the top biopharma companies have a significant R&D presence here.

None of this happened by accident. The investments made by the Mass. Life Sciences Center, started during the Romney administration and expanded under the Patrick administration, coupled with our unrivaled research capability, have been instrumental in creating this strong cluster. The nation-leading deployment of clean energy technologies, with leadership from the Mass Clean Energy Center and the Mass Technology Collaborative, is another great example.

Now we find ourselves at another critical moment in history. We have a wealth of talent attending our universities, but we struggle to keep them after graduation, and there continue to be disciplines where the demand far exceeds the supply. We need to follow four important principles: 1. Focus and set goals — assess where you can lead and select priorities and goals accordingly. 2. Talent — make higher education and schools, linked to industry, the unifying theme. 3. Regional alliances — organize strategies to connect assets. 4. Global partnerships — support an international strategy.

We have established leadership in the life sciences, clean energy, and other tech areas, including: cybersecurity, Big Data, advanced manufacturing and robotics. The state now should consider a focus on major technology opportunities that cut across multiple sectors. We have strengths in these cross-cutting technologies in both industry and the universities, but they are not organized enough yet to establish and maintain a leadership position.

How do we get there? Massachusetts can take the lead by investing in new “Research Centers of Excellence” that bring together its many assets in government, universities and industries to focus on challenges like cybersecurity and Big Data. The state needs to be the catalytic force by seeding the effort and having industry players support it thereafter, funding with a 1-to-3 ratio match of public-to-private or federal funds.

The investments and decisions we make in the next year will determine whether we continue to be the leaders in innovation challenges — as we are in the life sciences — or if we lose our nascent leadership position to other regions that are making investments that approach a billion dollars in these areas. Time will tell.

William Guenther is president of Mass Insight. Jack M. Wilson is president-emeritus of the University of Massachusetts.

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