Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Government's Role in the Economic Recovery: A Partner, Not a Sponsor

The Washington Post reported last week that the President hasn't ventured beyond a four mile radius outside the White House since January 20th and the opponents of the economic stimulus bill couldn't be happier about it. By staying inside of Washington since his inaugural, the President has missed an opportunity to create public support for his stimulus package. There's one honeymoon per marriage, and he's blown his by relying on Beltway insiders to move the stimulus bill ahead

The new White House photographer, Pete Souza, should put his camera down and provide the President with some advice from another President that Souza worked for – Ronald Reagan. Reagan and company – Deaver, Meese, Rollins, Nofzinger et al understood all too well that public acceptance of legislation or public policy debuts had to happen beyond the opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue.

There are a multitude of “sets” President Obama could have visited to connect with the American voter on why the stimulus bill should be passed, and many of these locations are demonstrative of how jobs can be created when the private and public sectors work together. On second thought, perhaps that’s the reason the President didn’t visit these spots – because they represent Government as a partner, not a sponsor, of job growth.

Some of the best examples of public-private economic development partnerships can be found in University Research Parks. The parks have been around for years and have paid huge dividends to the regions where they are located. Economic cross pollination between graduates, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists combined with the intellectual horse power of the university scientists and professors create an environment where small businesses are created and thrive. Government money provided to the parks has been spent wisely and evenly – with outcomes and deliverables clearly measured.

Speaking of the Gipper, he would have loved the New Orleans Bio Innovation Center as a speech backdrop. A consortium of LSU, Tulane, the University of New Orleans and Xavier University, the center’s Technology Business Incubator has successfully stimulated entrepreneurial bio science companies in an area devastated by Katrina. The bio sciences field is growing at a pace comparable to the health care industry and higher skilled, higher paying jobs are being created right along with the growth.

Another Reagan-esque speech site is the University of Toledo’s Science and Technology Corridor project. Research, development and business generation in the corridor has focused on exploring alternative energy development. Toledo, long swaying in the economic doldrums, is coming alive again with young entrepreneurs creating spin-offs that support research into alternative methods of powering the United States well into the next century, without the need for foreign oil.

Both sites are excellent examples of long term, coordinated economic development collaboration between Universities and their surrounding regions, primed by well managed government funding seen as seed capital, not a bottomless pit of funding. Greenhouses of innovation and competitiveness, these parks are helping regional economies co-exist and thrive in the broader, world-wide economy.

The President had some tailor made examples of economic stimulus projects he could have spotlighted with a personal visit had he chose to. The facts and pictures would have spoken for themselves, and voters would see what public/private partnerships are capable of. The fact that he didn’t take advantage of pre-existing and successful models could signal a vision for economic recovery that trades sheer volumes of unfettered taxpayer money rained upon programs (and yet to be created programs) with little practical thought.

Submitted by ASO member: Matthew E. Crow

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