Arkansas' Role in Research and Development

by John Ahlen  on Monday, Jul. 9, 2012 12:00 am  

John Ahlen

The extension of technology-based economic development programs into a more diverse set of organizations began in 2000. The passage of Initiated Act 1 of 2000 created the five-member Arkansas Biosciences Institute as part of the Tobacco Settlement Proceeds Act. As settlement dollars were received by the state, research projects related to tobacco and health improvement were substantially expanded.

The Venture Capital Act of 2001 was enacted and authorized the Arkansas Development Finance Authority to become involved in building venture capital interest in Arkansas firms. This was followed in June 2001 with the appointment of the Task Force for the Creation of Knowledge-Based Jobs at the Arkansas Department of Economic Development (now the Economic Development Commission).

One of the most significant findings of the Task Force was how difficult it is to recruit a startup technology company from the nurturing environment in which it originally took root.

The Task Force issued its report in September 2002 and its recommendations led to a set of new programs – focused on research and development and equity investment tax credits jointly administered by the Arkansas Development Finance Authority, the Arkansas Science & Technology Authority, and the Arkansas Economic Development Commission – to assist start-up technology companies while they matured and give them a chance to put down the roots that anchor them to the place where they started.

Another set of policy initiatives was enacted at the urging of Accelerate Arkansas, a new private sector-led statewide group that evolved in part from the Task Force for the Creation of Knowledge-Based Jobs.

The group prominently included Innovate Arkansas – to coach new companies – through the Economic Development Commission; the Arkansas Research Alliance – to help recruit top research talent to the state’s research universities – through the Science & Technology Authority; and the Risk Capital Matching Fund – to invest in enterprise development – a joint administration which is led by the Development Finance Authority.

The most recent development in technology-based economic development began with the 2007 appointment of the Workforce Cabinet by Governor Mike Beebe, which brought together the workforce, educational and economic development leadership of his administration. Among its other important activities, the Workforce Cabinet is leading the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) Works initiative announced by the Governor in 2011. STEM Works is supporting the transformation of math and science education at the high school level and adjustments to the way universities are preparing the next generation of math and science teachers, all aimed at improving the state’s 21st Century STEM workforce.

Today, nearly 30 years after Arkansas took the first steps to replicate home grown job creation, there are certainly jobs to count, but it’s perhaps more important to recognize that Arkansas is well positioned for the future because it has formed a globally competitive, technology-based economic development ecosystem driven by multi-organizational investments, know-how and collaboration.

(John Ahlen is the President of Arkansas Science and Technology Authority.)



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