Thanks for the visit, but we need R&D investment
July 17, 2006
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
President Bush toured
Cabot Microelectronics Corp. in Aurora in lab coat and safety
glasses on his recent visit here. The president touted his American
Competitiveness Initiative, his proposal to train new math and
science teachers, and his 2007 budget proposal to invest $137
billion on federal R&D.
was great seeing the commander in chief talking tech in Illinois
instead of California.
The president even
lauded Cabot in his weekly radio address saying, "Cutting-edge
firms like Cabot are creating good jobs for our workers, and helping
to keep America competitive."
My question for the
president is this: Will any of those federal R&D investments
arrive in Illinois to create jobs here? In February, Chicago lost
a competition for a $15 million grant from the U.S. Labor Department
to study innovation and economic growth. We're talking billions
in federal R&D, and that's worth chasing. California and New
York know that and so do our neighbors in Michigan and Indiana.
So is any one individual
in Illinois leading the charge to land those important federal
"To my knowledge,
no," said Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce President Jerry
Roper. "I don't know of any one organization that owns the
Roper suggested checking
with Tom Thornton, president of the Illinois Technology Development
Alliance, an experienced hand at corralling federal R&D dollars.
"I have no idea
who's quarterbacking it," said Thornton.
Thornton's a local
tech insider. He once worked for House speaker Dennis Hastert,
and he served as president of the Illinois Coalition, a public-private
cooperative venture created to coordinate efforts to guide federal
R&D investments to Illinois.
In January 2005, Thornton's
ITDA split off from the Illinois Coalition. His group agreed to
leave federal R&D advocacy to the Illinois Department of Commerce
and Economic Opportunity. Since then the Illinois Coalition has
later, the Illinois Coalition has not been reformed," said
Thornton, though he added that the state has interviewed candidates
to head the organization.
"In the leadership vacuum, each lab and university is fighting
it out alone, and finding collaborations where they can."
Thornton believes the
state can play an important role fostering public and private
collaboration to pursue these new funds.
"Every other state
in the union is doing this," he said.
PCTEL Inc. Chief Executive
Officer Marty Singer, who serves as the chair of the Midwest Council
of the American Electronics Association, agreed. "The political
leadership in Illinois at the local, state and federal level has
to advocate Illinois," Singer said.
For its part, state
officials say they are committed.
DCEO Director Jack
Lavin said, "Gov. Blagojevich and I will continue working
closely with the Illinois congressional delegation to bring even
more federal dollars here that will keep us ultra-competitive
in our global economy. This has been an administration priority
for the past several years, and it will certainly continue."
Lavin said he believes
Bush came here because we're a high tech leader. He said the governor
knows innovation leads to investment that leads to higher paying
jobs. He pointed to the state's focus on growing the homeland
security industry, BIO2006, and efforts to land big federal projects
like the Rare Isotope Accelerator, FutureGen and the International
But Blagojevich's team
can't do it alone. There needs to be bi-partisan support from
the Illinois congressional delegation and collaboration with our
universities and business leaders.
Illinois knows how
to chase federal highway funds. Let's hope the high-profile members
of the Illinois delegation, including Speaker Hastert, Senators
Barack Obama and Dick Durbin know how to work together to land
federal R&D investments for their home state.
are transitory. Hard cash federal R&D investments in Illinois
mean a lot more. They mean jobs.
Click Commerce CEO
Michael Ferro was named Entrepreneur of the Year in the technology
category by Ernst & Young in the Lake Michigan area....nPhase
CEO Steve Pazol talks about the global opportunity of machine-to-machine
technology at Thursday's Smart Services: The Business Behind M2M
conference at the Chicago Athletic Association.
Krauss is a Chicago area tech writer and consultant.