The U.S. government is a crucial source of support for the university-based science community. After a decade of declining federal investment in research, Congress has increasingly prioritized university-based science R&D in an effort to spur regional economic development. One major initiative is the National AI Initiative Act of 2020, which created the National AI Research Resource (NAIRR) Task Force to develop legislation that would fund geographically dispersed access to AI research computing resources. This initiative and others, including the Technology, Innovation, and Partnership Directorate at NSF and the CHIPS and Science Act, embody the expectation that geographically targeted investments in research will promote economic growth in areas of the country that have lagged behind.
Continued federal research investment hinges on the availability of rigorous evidence showing that geographically targeted investments in science R&D in fact promote regional economic development. However, we currently lack reliable evidence on the local economic impacts of recent investments in university-based science R&D. Although there is some compelling historical evidence of the impact of prior investments in R&D on local economic growth (Kantor and Whalley 2019, Tartari and Stern 2021, Babina et al 2023), many are skeptical that these relationships will hold for recent federal research investments in advanced computing and manufacturing technologies (Frank et al 2019, Acemoglu et al 2022). The absence of evidence of the local economic returns to university-based research funding threatens the future of bipartisan political support for federal research investments.
To address this gap, the Social Science Research Council is developing an initiative, in partnership with the College and University Fund for the Social Sciences, to pilot estimates of the local economic returns from university-based science R&D. The initiative will produce credible evidence of the local economic impacts of federal science funding, providing congressional representatives with a better understanding of the positive impacts of R&D investments on local economic growth.