Governors and innovation

The National Governors Association (NGA) wrapped up its Winter Meeting earlier this week with a focus on innovation. This year’s Chair, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, has made Innovation America the theme of her chairmanship. During the year, the NGA has been exploring three areas:

• Improving science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education;
• Enabling the post-secondary education system to better support innovation; and
• Encouraging business innovation through supportive state policies.

As part of the last of those topics, the focus has been on clusters, technology and entrepreneurship. As part of their cluster strategy, the Governors are recommending the creation of a

federal framework to assist regions, states, universities and the private sector in working collaboratively to accelerate the rate of U.S. innovation. The proposal focuses on three critical areas:
* Improving the math and science proficiency of all children in grades K-12 to increase the number and quantity of scientists and engineers who attend and graduate from college.
* Promoting innovation broadly throughout the state and targeting innovative regions that compete globally.
* Creating more flexible workforce programs.

I have yet to see the specifics of this federal innovation grant proposal, but it should like a good idea. The one concern I have is that the grants be tied to a realistic strategy. Everyone wants to be the next Silicon Valley. That is not going to happen. Each region needs its own unique strategy – based on its own jurisdictional advantage.
It is also about utilizing innovation and intangibles. As a recent story on the issue in Christian Science Monitor (States step up push to lure innovators and investors) points out:

Rising prosperity hinges not just on new industries, but on people in all industries learning to be more productive. (emphasis in original)

There is a distinction often made between technology-creating and technology-utilizing areas. Not all areas are going to be on the forefront of every new technology. But all areas can use technology to become competitive and productive.
If technology utilization is part of the NGA’s framework for innovation, then it will succeed. If it is another case of smokestack chasing applied to high-tech, then it won’t. Recreating Silicon Valley everywhere doesn’t work; creating your own new regional hotspot in “X” does.
I think the Governor’s (and Mayor’s) know that better than anyone — and are in the best position to make it happen. So I applauded their imitative and wish them well.