The Recovery Act as Baby Boom

Good public policy is all about planning ahead. It’s like that old Wayne Gretsky quote about being where the puck is going to be (and no, I’m not talking hockey because I’m on the post-Olympics NHL bandwagon…although, go Flyers!). One of the biggest public policy challenges that our country is facing is what do we do about all these baby boomers, who are going to increasingly put a strain on things like Social Security & Medicare, on our healthcare system and on our workforce needs. (Nothing personal, boomers.)

On the economic development side of things, I think that there is going to be a similar challenge/opportunity with Recovery Act investments in R&D.

Think about it. Out of the approximately $1 billion that our region has received to date from federal government “stimulus” grants to our region’s leading industry clusters, a significant amount was in basic research. The University of Washington alone is getting hundreds of millions of dollars for science in life sciences, clean technology and IT. Which means that, a couple years down the line, that R&D is going to translate into products and technologies that are ready for market. Call it the Recovery Boom.

Now, the public policy challenge is how do we make sure the commercialization pipeline doesn’t get clogged, such that some of these innovations never get to market. To be honest, we already probably miss out on some powerful new products, which either get lost in the research system or never get the support and financing they need to reach customers. And doubling or tripling the number of potential new technologies isn’t going to make that easier.

I should point out that I don’t think it matters that they’re Recovery Act funded, either. It’s not like discoveries with this money should get priority to market of discoveries funded by other money (much of it also federal, anyway). I’m just saying that we need to have a coordinated effort and coordinated resources because it’s likely that in 2013 there will be a larger than normal pool of potential products that will help us live longer, better, more effective and efficient lives, and I’d like to take advantage of them. Especially as I spend a significant portion of my time reading to that huge pool of retired baby boomers in the nursing home.

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