North Dakota, Michigan seek to boost economy with new investments in research

Stateline Midwest Volume 20, No 6: June 2011

Lawmakers across the Midwest are seeking ways to support and expand existing and new economic development programs. In North Dakota and Michigan, bills recently signed into law will ensure those states’ commitment to technology-based economic growth will continue.

North Dakota’s biennial budget includes $12 million to maintain the state’s Centers of Research Excellence. Through the centers, the state’s higher- education campuses partner with the private sector to commercialize projects in several targeted areas: renewable fuels development, energy workforce training and technology, aerospace, electronics, advanced manufacturing, and other technical research-and-development areas.

The approved appropriation is lower than the $20 million requested by Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple to expand the program. (He wanted to restructure the existing centers and provide additional funding for three new centers that would have focused on commercialization, entrepreneurship and workforce.) However, the $12 million will allow the state to continue its investment in infrastructure and research capacity at the existing 18 centers.

The North Dakota budget also includes funding for technology-based entrepreneurship grants and establishes a program to provide matching grants for startup technology businesses.

The new $1 million Small Business Technology Investment Program will provide grants of up to $50,000; it requires a two-to-one match from a North Dakota angel investment fund. Other provisions in the budget to support economic development include $2 million in workforce enhancement grants and $4 million for entrepreneurial centers at the state’s non-research four-year colleges.

In an attempt to encourage investment in high-tech businesses and support the state’s agricultural industry, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill that will expand the state’s 21st Century Jobs Fund.

The measure (SB 144) will allow a wider range of industries involved in research and advanced technology to compete for funds. Currently, tech companies engaged in activities such as life sciences and alternative energy are eligible for funding.

Under the new bill, more tech-based firms (those involved with information technology and agricultural processing, for example) also will be eligible for funding.

“We need to open our door to all innovators, not just those from a few select industries,” says Republican Sen. Mike Green, sponsor of the bill. “This legislation does exactly that.”

“[It] will encourage economic growth in Michigan agriculture and the information technology sector,” Green adds.

“It also greatly expands the focus of the 21st Century Jobs Fund, sending a message to all innovators and entrepreneurs here in Michigan and across the nation that we’re ready to do business.”