at Northwestern University.
VentureTech has not only directed more money toward university research facilities, it also has made them easier to approve and construct. These facilities no longer follow the standard higher education capital process; therefore, they don't compete for funding with classroom facilities and other school projects.
"We haven't seen the impact of that bricks-and-mortar investment yet, other than it's certainly been helpful to recruit faculty," Chicoine said. "It's going to be three to five years down the road when that sort of capital comes on line and you really see the impact of it on companies that are commercializing technologies."
The jury's still out on the ultimate effectiveness of technology-based economic development initiatives, said Philip Psilos, director of economic and technology policy studies for the National Governors Association.
Results of economic development programs fundamentally are difficult to measure due to the wide number of uncontrolled variables that influence a region's economy, he said. VentureTech also focuses on fields such as biotechnology with notoriously long lead times for commercializing intellectual capital. Therefore, it's a mistake to expect overnight benefits, said Psilos and others.
"We're in the midst of a fundamental change in the economy, where knowledge and human skill has been put center stage. It takes time to seed that into a region," he said. "Illinois is a high human-capital state, but policies to turn that into economic growth are an effort that will be rewarded in the long term."
Still, VentureTech has become a model for government efforts to nurture New Economy jobs and investment since its launch two years ago.
"None of the pieces of VentureTech policy were particularly unique or pioneering. It was the combination that was unusually comprehensive," Psilos said. "I think what has led a lot of states to try to replicate VentureTech is its multi-pronged approach, including investment in fundamental research and also its sophisticated, cluster-based orientation. It's building on existing strengths and supplementing them to move to the next-generation technologies."
A Better Way
Programs such as VentureTech represent enlightened thinking on economic development, according to Rob Atkinson, director of the Technology & New Economy Project at the Washington, D.C.-based Progressive Policy Institute.
"What states like Illinois are looking at is how to develop a more entrepreneurial and technology-based economy," he said. And tax breaks and other traditional economic development incentives don't necessarily stimulate growth in those areas.
"Smokestack-chasing, whether it's a steel mill or a chip plant, is still a bad idea," Atkinson said. "Just willy-nilly going out there and trying to get more companies to come to your state, that might even hurt your budget if you're giving away a lot of incentives and you're only gaining medium- or low-wage jobs."
Instead, a comprehensive strategy for investing in IT infrastructure, education and advanced research and development is key to attracting high-paying, knowledge-based industries, he said. And universities play a key role in that effort.
"The tendency in most states has been to keep the university governance completely separate from the economic development governance," Atkinson said. "So you boost your English literature department at the same rate you boost your wireless engineering department. If you're going to think seriously about tying your university system to economic development, you need to be strategic about where you intervene."
Multi-pronged economic development initiatives are particularly important for Midwestern states, which have lagged behind high-tech centers on the nation's east and west coasts, added Atkinson.
"They have been able to build much more entrepreneurial technology-based and knowledge-based economies, so I think some of the Midwestern states have recognized that and are saying, 'We need to do something about it.'"
Picking Up Speed