I interviewed Dan Berglund who discussed Tech-Based Economic Development.
It’s good to speak with you today, Dan. I’m looking forward to discussing with you tech-based economic development. Before we start, can you provide a brief background of yourself?
Sure. My background has been focused on economic development primarily at the state and regional levels in the U.S. I spent seven years with the Ohio Department of Development’s technology division and then working with state and regions on strategies to build technology-based economies. For the past 19 years, I’ve been running SSTI, which stands for the State, Science, and Technology Institute, which is focused on advancing economic growth through science, technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
Can you talk about what tech-based economic development is and why it’s important?
Tech-based economic development is an approach that’s really designed to encourage economic growth through science, technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship. What that means is that researchers have looked over the years at the success of Silicon Valley, Research Triangle, Route 128 to try and identify those things that are required for a prosperous technology-based economy. They really identified four or five things, including a strong research enterprise, meaning good universities, good companies, federal laboratories, all doing strong research.
That’s the first thing. The second is commercializing research, getting it out into the marketplace. The third is having a technically skilled workforce. Fourth is capital, to make sure that there’s adequate capital to finance all of this. The fifth is entrepreneurial culture, that you’ve got a thriving base of entrepreneurs who can create new ideas, create new companies, and scale those up.
Technology-based economic development is all about trying to address all of those individual elements, bringing it together more as a system. a lot of people refer to it as creating an innovation or cultivating an innovation ecosystem. It’s important because today’s economy really is so focused on technology as a fundamental driver of the economy. The technology jobs tend to be higher-skill, higher-wage jobs, the kind of high-quality jobs that, essentially, all regions are looking for and trying to create.
Can you talk more about who can benefit?
Really, it’s good for any community. If you take a look at any of the communities that have a strong technology presence, what you’ll see, in general, is a higher-per-capita income for the population. That has proven to be the case even for those who aren’t working directly for technology companies. It’s a strategy that helps lift all boats, not just those that are benefiting directly or involved in the technology industry.
My last question is: Do you have any success stories to demonstrate how this is done effectively?
Sure. States have been active in this area for, really, more than 30 years. The first big wave of activity started in the mid-1950s with the concept of Research Triangle Park; that’s the first success story you can talk about, RTP in North Carolina. It took a long time for Research Triangle to take off, but it has had significant impact on the economy there.
The next big wave of activity was in the mid-1980s, as the manufacturing base in the U.S. started to run into global-competitiveness problems. You saw programs like the Ben Franking Technology Partnership in Pennsylvania created, which was very focused on supporting entrepreneurs investing in companies, investing in research strengths in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. They’ve had a number of evaluations and economic-impact reports done, demonstrating the impact that the program has. I think if you take a look at the city of Atlanta, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that a lot of the technology focus in Atlanta is an outgrowth of investments that the state and the private sector have made in a public-private partnership program there called the Georgia Research Alliance, which recruits eminent scholars to Georgia’s universities and helps commercialize research out of the universities.
There are a number of examples across the country, and it can be rural areas—or smaller-population areas, I should say. For example, the University of North Dakota, the Center for Innovation has helped create hundreds of companies and hundreds of jobs, as well, in areas that most people don’t think of as a technology hotspot.
Thank you, Dan, for sharing today on this topic.
My pleasure. Good talking with you, Dustin.
About Dan Berglund
President and CEO at SSTI