Federal Grants Crucial in Funding Innovations that Strengthen KY
Published September 16, 2013 in the Lexington Herald-Leader
By George Ward
In his recent op-ed, Eli Capilouto, president of the University of Kentucky, gave a high-level explanation of the need for continued federal research funding and the impact that this funding has on research institutions and the communities where they reside.
In order for America to continue to play a leading role in the development of useful technologies and new products that make our lives better, the "innovation deficit" created by declining federal research funding and sequestration must be addressed.
In my position as executive director of the Coldstream Research Campus and working with Central Kentucky's technology-based economic development professionals, I see firsthand on a daily basis how the investment in research has changed Lexington's business mix, tax base and our community.
Whether UK recruits another world-class scientist (maybe with a spouse or significant other with similar advanced degree credentials) or an entrepreneurial faculty member starts a company and hires young, well-educated, well-paid employees, Lexington benefits from the "brain gain." Lexington also benefits as these folks volunteer for civic boards or take advantage of the many social and cultural opportunities in our city.
Of the 66 total businesses and organizations at Coldstream, more than half are in life sciences, engineering or animal health. There are an additional 19 companies growing in UK's high-tech business incubator, the Advanced Science and Technology Commercialization Center, also known as ASTeCC, creating a pipeline of companies with the opportunity to create innovative new products and grow well-paying jobs.
In all, ASTeCC has produced 43 companies that have graduated from the incubator facility and were either purchased by larger companies, or continue to grow, many in the Lexington area.
The typical evolution of these high-tech companies starts with millions of federal research dollars on basic research to advance science in a particular area. As an idea develops, innovative faculty members patent their ideas and then license them to a company, some started by entrepreneurial faculty members those who have received doctorates. Many of these companies are then funded by federal small business innovation research grants. Using these grants, companies develop working prototypes of new products and then go on to seek private investment to commercialize their ideas.
Since March 2007, the federal government has awarded 33 small businesses in Fayette County over $28 million from this program with an additional $18 million from a Kentucky matching program. Twelve of these companies were attracted to Central Kentucky from out of state to qualify for state matching grants and to be close to UK researchers and resources.
Much of this money is then spent in our community on salaries, building rents and other operating expenses. These salaries then turn over in our community at retail stores, restaurants, housing, entertainment or arts venues, etc.
The May 2013 McKinsey Global Institute report, "Disruptive technologies: Advances that will transform life, business, and the global economy," said technologies including advanced robotics, next-generation genomics, 3-D printing, energy storage and advanced materials are among the top 12 technologies that have the greatest economic potential in the next 12 years.
New products being developed in Central Kentucky include treatments for cancer, methods of drug delivery, business solutions using 3-D imaging, longer-life and less expensive batteries for mobile devices and electric vehicles, cost-effective manufacturing of prototype products, advanced materials including lighter weight metals used in automobile and aerospace manufacturing, and many others.
All this and more is happening every day at UK, the Coldstream Research Campus, ASTeCC and other areas of our city. It all started with basic research investment by the federal government. It has led to brain gain, innovative new products and a growing, well-educated community. The need to fund innovation is very apparent in Lexington and it is important that Congress helps prevent an innovation deficit from occurring.
With appropriate funding, UK researchers and private companies founded by entrepreneurial faculty will create new technologies that will lead to a more sustainable way of life, well-paying jobs and economic prosperity for our community and country.
At issue: Aug. 25 commentary by Eli Capilouto, "Research investment drives progress; cuts in public grants threaten growth"
George Ward is executive director of Coldstream Research Campus.