Using Research to Build States’ Economies

Most state leaders have had to make decisions about how to invest scarce resources to create a better economy with little data to back them up. That’s just changed with a new report produced by Elsevier and The Council of State Governments.

America’s Knowledge Economy: A State-by State Review” gives policymakers an overview of the American research landscape, including analysis of individual state research strengths and how those can contribute to economic growth.

“Elsevier’s partnership with The Council of State Governments provides, for the first time, an overview of every state’s comparative knowledge economy advantages,” said Brad Fenwick, senior vice president for global strategic alliances at Elsevier. He was one of the featured speakers at a recent CSG eCademy webcast highlighting how states can use the new report.

Fenwick said the report takes into account such factors as the number of articles published in every state, what fields those articles cover, how often those articles have been cited in other research and patents, and collaborations between researchers and private businesses.
“It turns out that the data is very strong that research plays a key role in defining a state’s future economic prosperity,” he said. “From Silicon Valley in California to what we call the Silicon Alley of New York, … there really are countless examples over the past several decades about how new knowledge created through research drives innovation, attracts jobs and fosters economic growth.”

George Lan, analytical product manager for Elsevier and one of the report’s principle authors, said the top five states producing the most research publications account for more than 50 percent of the total U.S. output. Total funding for research and development also is centered in the top-producing states.

“That said, just because production and funding of research in the U.S. is concentrated in a few states, that doesn’t necessarily mean that those other states aren’t producing impactful research,” Lan said. “In fact, when we analyzed the data, we found that across the U.S. as a whole, U.S. research is cited 49 percent higher (more often) than the world average.

“You’ll notice even in the state with the lowest output, North Dakota, … 
its research is still cited more than 14 percent higher than the world. States at the top end of the spectrum—such as Massachusetts and Washington—are cited more than twice as much as the world average.”

Lan said the report also looks at how efficient universities are and how much they produce for their research dollars.

“What we did is we analyzed the National Science Foundation’s data about how much universities across all states received in terms of R&D (research and development) expenditures and then we counted the number of publications produced by those universities,” Lan said. “As a whole, U.S. universities produce about 12.7 publications per million dollars of research and development expenditures. … The main takeaway from this is research does require substantial investment. … The payoffs are definitely worth it in terms of driving innovation.”

The new report highlights not just the strengths of the country as a whole, but also digs deep into what the research strengths are for each state. Charles Kruzansky, associate vice president for university relations at Cornell University, said that is important information for policymakers to have.

“We are unable to do this kind of work ourselves,” he said. “On two occasions in the past 10 years, we at Cornell have gotten together with people in the state and we’ve tried to do this for New York state. It was a lot of work. It was pretty good, but it only talked about New York.

“What you’ve done here is you’ve focused on every state to a great degree and, I think, given a perspective so that state-by-state decisions can be made. … It gives decision makers a road map basically of how to make investments to accomplish some of their goals.”

Fenwick said policymakers should be looking at where their state’s strengths are and begin building economic development and research strategies that play to those strengths.

“I believe this kind of data helps inform decisions,” he cautioned, “but should not necessarily make the decision. There are lots of other factors that go into decision-making. But it’s clear that if you make decisions with no data at all, your odds of coming up with the correct decision or being able to defend that decision are quite limited.”

View the recorded eCademy webcast session here.