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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > UAlbany College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering > We need to prepare for the recovery

Ed Cupoli
CNSE Head of Nanoeconomics Constellation
UAlbany College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering

By Edward M. Cupoli for The Business Review

"The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis.' One brush stroke stands for danger; the other for opportunity. In a crisis, be aware of the danger, but recognize the opportunity."

Those words, spoken 50 years ago by President John F. Kennedy, have newfound meaning amid the most challenging economic crisis since the Great Depression. The danger is apparent, with layoffs, closures and rising costs affecting people and businesses in our community and throughout the world. Certainly, it will take bold and decisive action, for which work is already underway on the state and national levels, to address those critical issues.

February 27th, 2009

We need to prepare for the recovery

Perhaps harder to recognize is the opportunity, but it is clearly present. We know from the lessons of the Great Depression that the nation should not focus solely on balancing budgets in the short term, but also on spending and investing to get our economy moving again. We now have a unique opportunity to chart a new course that will prime the pump for future economic growth that is both strong and sustained.

With that in mind, it is imperative that any strategy designed to ensure that we are prepared to ride the wave of an economic recovery must include investment in two critical areas: innovation and education.

"Innovation leads to job growth directly and clearly," Robert D. Atkinson, president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, told The New York Times in a recent article. That same piece cited a 1995 study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which revealed that throughout the last half of the 20th century, periods of high job growth coincided with periods of high productivity, often achieved through the development and integration of new technologies.

While infrastructure is important for a growing economy, it is more than just bricks, mortar and steel. The definition of infrastructure has evolved. It also includes cutting-edge technologies for enhanced information, energy, transportation, health care, water and sewer systems, and other critical societal needs. Educational, commercial, technological, legal and entrepreneurial initiatives are essential to make this infrastructure possible. Our state's and nation's infrastructure needs serious work. Now is the time to invest.

It is also important to increase the value of our labor force to create more high-paying jobs, particularly for younger professionals entering the work force. As quality education is essential for a higher standard of living, many more students should seek advanced degrees in science, engineering and mathematics—fields that have multiple career paths in our 21st century innovation economy.

Simultaneously, many students would be more productive and achieve a higher standard of living by learning skilled trades in line with the growing number of high-tech occupations. In my current position, I have seen that a good worker with a high school education and proper training in the right industry can actually earn more than many college graduates in other fields. Similarly, we need to focus on retraining programs through which tradespeople can augment the skills that will keep them as productive members of the work force.

It is an educated and trained work force, a spirit and history of innovation, a large research and development (R&D) commitment from the nation and private sector, a defined legal system and intellectual property protection that have always given the U.S. a true competitive advantage in the global economy. Those same principles provide a platform for realizing our next great opportunity—and the public-private partnership between New York state government, IBM, and the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) is a prime example.

The CNSE model is the 21st century version of the strategy that President Roosevelt followed in the 1930s by spending on major infrastructure projects to get the U.S. out of the Great Depression. The CNSE strategy leverages public funding with manyfold private funding for major infrastructure projects with significant employment and investment opportunities.

The CNSE model has generated billions of dollars in new investment, created and in-sourced thousands of high-paying, high-tech jobs, and developed a first-of-its-kind educational and work-force training paradigm. Now is an appropriate time to replicate the best of this model in other parts of our state and nation, using the enabling science of nanotechnology as a technological and economic springboard. We need to find and embrace those with the skill-set to work seamlessly between many sectors, including scientific, university, business and government, and those who do not fear leading in a changing environment.

Now is not the time to spend for the sake of spending, but instead to focus on a long-term vision and to demand results. Invest where the economic multiplier for the future is the greatest. For example, just as we should reduce our dependence on energy for environmental reasons—not only in the products we produce and consume but in how and where we live, work and move about—we should accelerate the development of alternative energy technologies that we can use for export to the world, offering a strong economic impact.

I am convinced that many talented and resourceful people working together will be successful. Fortunately, in New York state, we have some of the most creative people on the planet. Now is the time to work with visionaries to accelerate change. An economic crisis would be a terrible thing to waste.

EDWARD M. CUPOLI, Ph.D., is professor and head of the nanoeconomics constellation at the University at Albany's College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.

Article courtesy of The Albany Business Review.

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