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Remarks at Tech Town Innovation Incubator, Dayton, Ohio

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Acting Deputy Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank
Remarks at Tech Town Innovation Incubator, Dayton, Ohio

Thank you for that kind introduction.  And I want to thank the team at Tech Town for inviting us and for the tour. I have to say I was impressed by my behind-the-scenes glimpse. Both UA Vision and Persistent Surveillance are at the front lines of America’s high-tech economy, helping lead Dayton and the rest of the country into the 21st century with their extraordinary efforts.

Really, there’s no better place than Tech Town to talk about American innovation. No matter how many Democrats or how many Republicans are in the room, there is common agreement that our nation’s ability to innovate will determine what kind of economy–and even what kind of country–our children and grandchildren will inherit. It will decide whether the United States will offer the same economic opportunities for future generations that it did for our parents and grandparents.

In his State of the Union Address on Tuesday, President Obama laid out a blueprint for an economy that’s built to last–an economy built in large part on American ingenuity, the skills of our workers and a renewal of American values.

There is a basic American promise that if you work hard enough, you will earn enough to raise your family, pay your bills and save a little for retirement. In the past decade, our economy has not delivered on that promise. Even before the recession of 2008-09, incomes for middle-American families were stagnant, despite overall economic growth.

We need to renew the American promise and build a nation where everyone who does their fair share will have a fair chance of succeeding.

There are many policy issues we could talk about today that will help create jobs and create a long-term vibrant and growing economy. We could talk about making sure all of our children get a good education; we could talk about the need to invest in our nation’s infrastructure–its roads, and ports, and electric utility grid, and high-speed internet connections. But because we’re at Tech Town, what I’m going to talk about is innovation.

The president said: “Innovation is what America has always been about.” We know that innovation is necessary for  businesses to succeed, grow and create good jobs for American workers.

There has been an ongoing and often deeply divisive debate in Washington over how our economic future might develop. On one side, you’ve got a group that thinks federal fiscal austerity is the key.
But any approach where we cut the budget first and ask questions later ignores the very strategies that helped make America the preeminent economic power of the 20th century. It threatens our ability to invest in key priorities, particularly those things that foster innovation and economic growth.

Instead, we need to be smart about budget cuts. There are some things that the Federal government does that are deeply important to our long-term economic future.

One such area. . . where the returns in new jobs and new technologies have traditionally far exceeded the money invested on the front end by the federal government. . . where the government is a vital partner with the private sector. . . is innovation.

While private citizens and private businesses are the primary source of new ideas–from concept to commercialization–the government plays a key role in this effort.

Basic research and development activities are under-provided by businesses, and governments around the world recognize the need for public support of this type of work at universities and research institutes.

The president on Tuesday emphasized that we should continue to invest in basic research and new discoveries.

The U.S. has a proud tradition of supporting the work of federal and university labs. And this support has helped change our world. The Internet, satellite communications and aeronautics, among other job-creating advances, would not have been possible without the use of wisely-spent tax dollars.

That’s why this administration has focused on a series of initiatives in these areas, including:

  • Implementing a significant increase in funding for basic research and development, with the goal of bringing government support for R&D back to a level not seen since the Kennedy Administration, thereby reversing the decades-long decline in federal funding of basic research; and,
  • Reforming the U.S. Patent Office to improve patent quality and streamline the examination process in order to speed products to market faster.  The American Invents Act modernizes the U.S. patent system, and passed with strong bipartisan support this past September.

Right here in Dayton, the Commerce Department is working hand-in-hand with local companies to continue innovating and exploring. Through our Ohio Manufacturing Extension Partnership, or MEP, we’ve worked with more than 300 companies here in southwest Ohio.

One example: Morris Technologies, just down the road in Cincinnati, is developing titanium alloys for use in the aerospace and medical device industries. The research on which this work is based was conducted through Techsolve, another local company and an OHIO MEP partner. Techsolve helped Morris benefit when the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Paterson Air Force Base needed those resources.

I’m also proud to note the federal government’s role in building this amazing facility we’re standing in today. The Commerce Department’s Economic Development Administration teamed up with the state to help build Tech Town, and it’s a partnership that we’re honored to have been part of.

Now, this administration does not believe government has all the answers. But it does believe it can learn from what’s worked in the past and play a role in creating the conditions that make inspiration, innovation and invention more likely to happen.

Ultimately, job growth is the metric that is most important. And long-term job growth will only occur in a world where entrepreneurs and researchers find it easy to pursue new ideas and to turn them into new products and successful new businesses.

After all, nearly all net job creation comes from innovative start-up firms that are less than five years old. And those jobs offer better pay. In innovation-intensive fields, wages increased more than twice as fast as the national average.

It’s hardly a secret that innovation is the motor that generates American jobs today, and it will certainly be the driving force that creates the jobs of tomorrow. Our innovative abilities are deeply intertwined with our progress as a nation.

It’s no coincidence that the countries that leverage the fruits of science and technology for greater social and economic good lead the world in well-paying jobs and in standards of living.

Those things don’t just happen. The public sector has to understand where its involvement is most important and has to make the necessary investments.

On Tuesday night, the president talked about the need to invest in research and development which will lead to the innovation that supports American manufacturing, helps increase the availability of clean energy, and brings students from around the world to study at American universities.

Only with a laser-sharp focus on innovation. . . and on an educated workforce to support that innovation. . . will we build a 21st century economy that allows American businesses to flourish in an increasingly competitive global market. And only when American businesses flourish will we see the sort of job growth and income growth that assures economic opportunity for all Americans.

Thank you again for being here. Keep up the great work!