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Fall 2006 Vol. 6 No. 3



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MEETINGS

Participants and speakers at "Rising Above The Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing Regions, States, and Cities for a Brighter Economic Future," a convocation held at the National Academies on Sept. 28, 2006, photo by William Geiger

State and Local Leaders Explore Ways to Sharpen America's Competitive Edge

About 850 state policymakers, educators, business leaders, and researchers attended a National Academies' convocation in September to encourage bold leadership on local initiatives that could help strengthen U.S. competitiveness. At the end of the daylong meeting, participants identified various steps that state and local officials could take within the next six months to foster job growth, improve education, and enhance the environment for innovation. Ideas ranged from organizing campaigns to raise awareness about scientific and technical issues to creating summer training institutes for teachers to forming coalitions of industry representatives and academics that would nudge state authorities to act.

Several speakers also discussed the National Competitiveness Investment Act -- a bipartisan proposal to increase America's research spending, S&T educational opportunities, and support for innovation -- which was introduced in the U.S. Senate that week. But ultimately, a lot of the energy and political will in this area must come from the grassroots level, they said.

Participants and speakers at "Rising Above The Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing Regions, States, and Cities for a Brighter Economic Future," a convocation held at the National Academies on Sept. 28, 2006, photo by William Geiger
Participants and speakers at "Rising Above The Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing Regions, States, and Cities for a Brighter Economic Future," a convocation held at the National Academies on Sept. 28, 2006, photo by William Geiger
Participants and speakers at "Rising Above The Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing Regions, States, and Cities for a Brighter Economic Future," a convocation held at the National Academies on Sept. 28, 2006, photo by William Geiger
Participants and speakers at "Rising Above The Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing Regions, States, and Cities for a Brighter Economic Future," a convocation held at the National Academies on Sept. 28, 2006, photo by William Geiger

"...Much of what needs to be done to bolster our national competitive position needs to be done by all of you, and not just by those who serve in Congress," Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico told a packed auditorium during the morning session.

Last year the National Academies released Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Economic Future, a report that has informed public policies and gained widespread attention. The convocation was an outgrowth of that study, which called for a broad national effort to create new, high-quality jobs for all Americans in the 21st century. The bipartisan legislation was a response to recommendations in the report, as well as a similar study by the Council on Competitiveness.

The unmatched vitality of the United States' economy and science and technology enterprise has made this country a world leader for decades, allowing Americans to benefit from a high standard of living and national security. But in a world where advanced knowledge is widespread and low-cost labor is readily available, U.S. advantages in the marketplace and in science and technology have begun to erode, the report stated. There will not be a "sudden warning," said Norman R. Augustine, retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp., and chair of the committee that wrote the Gathering Storm report. Instead, "we'll see a gradual erosion unless we act, and act very decisively," he told participants.

Some state leaders have recently implemented plans to improve education for both children and adults, and to make greater use of university research facilities in job-creation strategies. For example, Gov. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia told participants about the "West Virginia Competes" forum that aims to prepare students for careers of the future. And Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas mentioned a partnership in her state among the University of Texas system, donors, and government and business officials to fund a $2.56 billion project in science, technology, engineering, and health. Manchin, who is active in the National Governors Association, said a team effort is crucial. "All of us," he said, "must take this journey together."

Improving the quality of K-12 instruction and learning is absolutely essential, agreed participants, who represented each of the 50 states. Civil rights leader and educator Bob Moses is the founder and president of The Algebra Project Inc., which promotes math literacy in inner-city and rural schools. At an afternoon workshop on ways to increase the participation of women and certain minorities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, he stressed the importance of making students themselves participants in such dialogues. "What we do in this country is talk to the country about the kids. We don't need to do that. We need to talk to the kids about the kids, and we need to be in their classrooms talking to them. ...We need to talk to the country about the country. ...There are very deep legacies [of educational inequality] which led us into the situation we're in."

At another session, Dean Kamen, head of DEKA Research and Development Corp. in Manchester, N.H., said policymakers and the scientific community also must do more to spark students' interest in science and technology. In 1989 he founded a robotics organization for high school students called FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology). Last year it held more than 30 regional robotics competitions and one national competition; 45,000 volunteers -- including scientists and engineers -- helped students prepare for the events. In the S&T arena, Kamen said, "finding ways to convince the feds, or the states, or some coalition...to just make fun, broad-based activities accessible -- particularly to women and minorities" is key to continued U.S. leadership.
  -- Vanee Vines



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Copyright 2006 by the National Academy of Sciences