By Tom Still
MADISON – For reasons that range from the culture of its people to the size of its congressional delegation, Wisconsin is not a magnet for federal dollars. The state ranks 40th among the 50 states in federal “balance of payments,” meaning Wisconsin taxpayers send far more money to Washington than they get back. Wisconsin is 45th in per capita federal spending across all programs, including Social Security and Medicare, and even lower in discretionary, or “pork barrel,” spending.
In one important category, however, Wisconsin brings home its share of the bacon. When it comes to merit-based competition for academic research and development dollars, Wisconsin moves much closer to the head of the class.
That’s one major finding of a report released this week by the Wisconsin Technology Council, “The Economic Value of Academic Research and Development in Wisconsin.” It concluded that roughly $883 million will be spent on academic research this year in Wisconsin – with about three-quarters of that total coming from federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health and NASA.
Wisconsin ranks 15th in academic research and development spending, thanks to the quality of research programs at the UW-Madison, the Medical College of Wisconsin, the Marshfield Clinic, and other private and public colleges and universities. Researchers in Wisconsin compete on a national basis for federal dollars – and they win more often than not.
Academic research and development is more than just a cottage industry in Wisconsin. It is a major driver of “New Economy” activity that creates high-wage jobs.
The $883 million spent on academic R&D in Wisconsin translates into 31,788 direct and indirect jobs, according to an economic multiplier formula used by the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Economic Analysis. It estimates 36 jobs are created for every $1 million in academic R&D spending.
If the jobs created by academic research spending in Wisconsin were reported as a separate category within the labor market statistics of the state Department of Workforce Development, it would represent a substantial sector in its own right. For example, paper manufacturing directly employs 39,100 people in Wisconsin, printing 34,700, plastics and rubber products 34,600, and construction of buildings 31,600.
Those kind of job figures merit attention from state policymakers, who have it within their grasp to make – or break – the future of academic research in the state.
Federal research dollars aren’t determined by politics or sprinkled about the United States on a per capita basis. In fact, research institutions in a relatively few states received the bulk of the $22 billion spent by federal agencies in fiscal 2002. In general, the states that win federal research grants are those with the right combination of physical infrastructure (such as laboratories), first-rate researchers and in-state support.
Historically, Wisconsin has enjoyed all three. There’s a tradition of research on the University of Wisconsin’s largest campus in Madison that dates to the late 1800s, and a network of programs and facilities have been built over time. Of late, however, support for that infrastructure has waned. The state of Wisconsin is spending less, per capita, to underwrite academic research than most other states. Even among the Big Ten Conference states, Wisconsin is losing ground.
Protecting the investment in Wisconsin’s academic R&D sector starts at home. The federal dollars won’t keep rolling in if laboratories fall into disrepair and top-flight professors are recruited to other states. Those competitive federal research dollars will simply go someplace else.
Gov. Jim Doyle and the Wisconsin Legislature must deal with a number of competing priorities as they struggle to keep the state’s budget in balance. However, dollars invested in Wisconsin’s academic research foundation are a proven producer of jobs, new companies and economic diversity.
Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison. To read or obtain a copy of “The Economic Value of Academic Research and Development in Wisconsin,” visit www.wisconsintechnologycouncil.com