Roads for a distribution network, ready-to-occupy spec buildings, well-targeted tax abatements, those can become significant inducements to attracting businesses to a community.
More important, Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran believes, is an able and ample workforce.
“We ought to be investing in people to a much higher degree than we invest in buildings,” the Republican lawmaker said. “I’ve always believed that if you have the best-educated (and) highly trained workforce, businesses will find you.”
Moran made the remarks this month at a Capitol Hill forum held in conjunction with the Brookings Institution and a new report it released with the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation.
Among other things, the report, titled “The Case for Growth Centers,” showed a widening gap between areas that have embraced a high-tech innovation economy and those “left-behind places.”
“The result is a crisis of regional imbalance,” the report’s executive summary said. “The struggle to keep up has brought stagnation and frustration. These uneven realities represent a serious productivity, competitiveness and equity problem.”
According to the report, one-third of the innovation sector jobs in the United States can be found in just 16 counties. Among them are King County in Washington (Seattle), Santa Clara County in California (Silicon Valley), Maricopa County in Arizona (Phoenix) and Travis County in Texas (Austin).
More than half of those jobs can be found in 41 counties, the closest being St. Louis County in Missouri and Sedgwick County (Wichita) in Kansas.
Moran said a partnership has been struck between Wichita State University and the vast aerospace industry in Kansas. It involves research and the education of students, including internships.
“We want to make certain that education then is utilized in the industries that we have in our state,” he said.
To address the “territorial polarization,” the report had recommendations for federal government actions, including a package of research-and-development funds for areas distant from tech hubs and establishment of a process for distributing money to the areas most ready for it.
A co-founder of the Senate Competitiveness Caucus, along with Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, Moran chairs an Appropriations subcommittee that oversees federal science spending. He cited the $242 million increase in National Science Foundation funding for this fiscal year.
At the forum, the Kansas senator also noted his stewardship of the Startup Act, a bipartisan measure meant to speed university research to its commercial applications, promote innovation and create a visa program for highly educated noncitizens to remain in the United States to follow through on new ideas that would stimulate job growth.
“It is a challenge because it involves immigration policy,” he said. “We certainly need to educate our own, but the number of engineers and others that we need in our country’s economy, it will not be fulfilled in the short term by simply looking internally.”