The “knowledge economy” is a tantalizing vision as one path for Rhode Island to shake off the economic doldrums of its shrunken manufacturing base and maximize the talent and skill in the state’s colleges and forward-thinking businesses.
For business, the essence of the knowledge economy is research and development, where federal money is often a substantial driver.
“Federal funding for research got knocked down hard in the last few years, but with a budget in place, I think that will be coming back in a big way,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., told an audience of 500 business leaders at the Crowne Plaza Providence-Warwick on March 31 at a breakfast gathering hosted by the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce.
Whitehouse said having a bipartisan budget agreement in place is a positive step in that direction.
“When you have a budget and every dollar is not the marginal dollar, the question becomes where – not whether – to spend the money, and in that new discussion research should do much better,” said Whitehouse.
Rhode Island business leaders are eager to play a role in that debate.
“The Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce has just joined a new national coalition of chambers of commerce working for increased federal research funding,” Chamber President Laurie White told Providence Business News.
“The goal of ‘Business for Federal Research Funding’ will be to build support in Washington for a strong R&D funding-growth platform, beginning with the fiscal 2015 budget appropriations process which is now underway,” said White.
The Providence Chamber is collaborating with the Boston Chamber of Commerce in the effort, White said. The coalition will focus on key agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, NASA and the Departments of Defense, Energy and Homeland Security.
“These research dollars are the lifeblood of our regional and national innovation economy – driving patent generation, startup and job-creation activity, technological and biomedical breakthroughs,” said White.