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Oct 17, 2021

Maryann Feldman presents to the President’s Council of Advisors on Science & Technology

On September 28th, 2021, CREATE’s Faculty Director Dr. Maryann Feldman presented at the inaugural meeting of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), which focused on, “Strengthening US Science & Technology Global Leadership for the 21st Century.” The Council is comprised of forty advisors outside of the federal government that provide expertise and guidance to the President in policy matters regarding science, technology, and innovation. This particular session was focused on current issues regarding equitable economic development, specifically during the country’s post-pandemic recovery.

Dr. Feldman has completed research focusing on technology-based economic development and the major role research universities play in this development model. The presentation provided a critique of the current development model while also emphasizing the importance of the involvement of other parties external from major research universities in development. The current tech-based economic development model has been centered around the Bayh-Dole act of 1980. This act allows for the patenting and commercialization of inventions created by institutions with federally funded research programs. The usage of federal funding to create privately owned technological inventions has capitalized on the widely accepted notion of ‘trickle-down’ economic practices to bring about unequal development in the communities surrounding these research hubs. These communities were referred to by Dr. Feldman as, “external ecosystems” that play a crucial role in development by creating “clusters” of economic growth that improve surrounding communities and businesses. The North Carolina Research Triangle is an excellent example of effective utilization of external ecosystems to create economic prosperity. Anchor institutions—particularly UNC Chapel Hill, Duke and NC State in this instance—act as hubs for technological development that can then be shared with surrounding communities to create new economic opportunities for residents and investors. Dr. Feldman describes the “industrial genesis” that has taken place in the Research Triangle as an example of the effectiveness of the character of place in fostering development. This multifaceted concept is described by Dr. Feldman as the cornerstone of place-based economic development, as fostering a sense of community can attract investors to an area they feel suits their needs and aspirations. Feldman emphasized the importance of “local champions”, those who work within a community to garner resources to achieve the development goals of a certain area. Building these external ecosystems takes time. Feldman argued that top-down policies will not yield the desired benefits without the involvement of local champions who understand the community and their needs. This strategy must be conducted purposefully and cannot be done using a “top-down” approach, but rather an “all hands on deck” approach that promotes equity and inclusive economic development.

Technology-based economic development has been approached through a lens of high production leading to high profits with little government intervention. The emphasis on short-sighted goals when working on technology development has produced highly inequitable environments that lack a strong community base. Dr. Feldman’s presentation stressed the importance of creating a cluster around these hubs of technological development in order to benefit the community members that make the development possible in the first place. This new emphasis on inclusion and lasting development will provide a sustainable and equitable future with shared economic prosperity.

In order to achieve equitable technology-based economic development, Dr. Feldman touched on the need for increased government intervention. A series of initiatives being proposed by the Biden administration are currently working to shift development goals away from focusing simply on economic growth. An increased emphasis on equity will bring new light to public welfare provisions, economic recovery, national security, and regional inequality as a means to address increasing bicoastal disparities in both economic and income growth. Dr. Feldman refers to “pockets of prosperity” when referencing the current economic climate of the US as our country’s economic growth has not benefited all regions equally. This unequal distribution of development has encouraged a notion of uniformity among research institutions as a means to accrue funding and increase public ratings while preventing unique solutions to local development needs. The emphasis on profitability in technology transfer is seen by Dr. Feldman as an inhibitor of progress. Approaching technology development from a service perspective allows for emphasis to be placed on showcasing the progress being made rather than the money being generated. Dr. Feldman criticized venture capitalism for inhibiting the creation of place-based development due to the short-term residences held by VC firms. Rather than utilizing venture capitalists’ “race to the bottom” tactics, Dr. Feldman recommends establishing institutions in communities that will nourish them, only that community and companies return the favor.

Thank you to CREATE Work Study Intern Drew Tribble for your help writing this story!

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