In 2011, National Institutes of Health grants totaling $152.8 million supported 2,148 jobs in Rhode Island. Nationally, NIH funding supported 432,094 jobs and generated more than $62 billion in economic activity. Yet federal support of basic scientific research continues to decline as the government looks for ways to trim expenses.
While the basic research yields many breakthroughs, and Rhode Island sees its share, from brain science to immunology to gene sequencing, the real benefits are often down the road, when those advances are translated into commercial and clinical applications.
One example of the power of basic research to build the region’s economy comes from the Slater Technology Fund. Since its 1997 inception, the fund has invested $22 million in more than 110 ventures, which subsequently have raised more than $356 million in other funding, money that improves lives and builds businesses.
Given the unlikelihood of federal sources of basic research funding increasing in the foreseeable future, it would seem that the state must somehow take up the slack.
It’s time for a true public-private partnership to create a capital source that can help this kind of research take place. Without it, Rhode Island may fall behind in the Innovation Age economy race. •