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Puget Sound Business Journal - Washington Innovation


Location: Unknown

By Representative Jay Inslee

In the State of the Union, President Obama challenged Americans to lead the world in innovation when he outlined a bold innovation agenda in response to this generation's "Sputnik moment."

Washingtonians should not just join this effort, we should lead it. Innovation has driven a large part of our state's economy for generations, becoming part of our DNA. In 2002, I imagined much the same challenge when I wrote about a New Apollo Clean Energy project.

We have led the innovation economy for decades, but are at risk of losing our perch as competing states embrace more aggressive business development policies. We have fallen from 5th to 11th in life sciences, rank 8th for innovative climate, and have watched as other states far exceeded our modest five percent growth in the life science industry.

It doesn't have to be this way. We still have the ingredients -- talent, capacity, and gumption -- to again lead in innovation. We are home to premier public research institutions, a national research lab, and are a center of global health research.

If the innovation jobs of tomorrow are to take root in Washington, we must harness all local, state, and federal resources, and implement policies that foster job creation and grow our economy.

Some of the options I believe we should explore include:

1. Increasing capital availability. Done right, setting aside a small sliver of funds from the Washington State Investment Board and other such investments can provide return for the beneficiaries, while driving more money into the local economy. Federal policies I am advancing, such as the Clean Energy Bank, can help leverage investments in clean energy technologies in our state.

2. Creating innovation clusters and business incubation centers. I am working to advance two federal initiatives that promote innovation clusters and our state must aggressively compete for these opportunities, while working to create our own.

3. Creating evergreen funds. For biotech, we should pursue public-private partnerships in R&D focused on specialized areas of research with significant commercial promise, such as the agreement recently reached between the Life Sciences Discovery Fund, Vulcan, and Omeros.

4. Changing tax policies. We should review current tax incentives, eliminate those that do not create jobs, and establish and extend those that do.

5. Advancing clean energy policies. We can drive investment into clean tech by giving investor-owned utilities more flexibility to invest in Washington's clean tech companies and encourage PUD's to do the same. We should decouple power sales from profits for investor-owned utilities so that they may sell conservation to create energy efficiency jobs.

6. Modernizing regulations. Last year I led a successful effort in Congress to create a national approval process for generic biologic drugs while encouraging innovation. We need to evaluate and ensure our federal and state policies do not disadvantage innovation.

7. Finding a stable source of funding for our universities and increase the coordination between our community colleges and the business community to assure we are providing education that meets markets needs.

This is not an exhaustive list of measures and much may have to wait until our current budget crisis is resolved. Some measures may require consideration of a constitutional amendment. Separately, we must enhance the foundation on which much of our economic future rests - K-12 education and expanding Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs.

We are home to the most technologically innovative companies and people on the planet. Now we must create equally innovative policies. It is Washington's destiny -- but only if we seize it.

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