Industries of Ideas:

Mapping the Economic Impacts of Research Investments in Emerging Technologies

In the mid-1990s, the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded two graduate students in computer science at Stanford University. These graduate students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, would later cite NSF funding support in the patent application leading to the 1998 founding of Google, Inc. in Menlo Park.

Federal research funding has enabled many others to pursue innovative scientific projects on university campuses, and later to join firms eager to benefit from their training and stores of potentially transformative ideas. How has this flow of scientific talent impacted the firms that have hired grant-funded researchers? What jobs have been created–or eliminated–as a result of the movement of grant-funded innovators from universities into the private sector? How has the flow of grant-funded scientific talent from universities into regional economies affected job quality, earnings, and other important labor force measures?

We currently lack the data infrastructure that would enable us to answer these questions, which have only become more pressing with the availability of new federal funds to support research into emergent technologies. 

To address this critical gap, a new collaboration between the Directorate for Technology, Innovation, and Partnerships (TIP) at the National Science Foundation, the Institute for Research on Innovation and Science (IRIS) at the University of Michigan, the Ohio Education Research Center (OERC) at The Ohio State University, and the Social Science Research Council will build a prototype data infrastructure to enable stakeholders to track the flow of grant-funded scientific talent from universities into regional economies.

Focused initially on the state of Ohio and the emerging technologies of artificial intelligence and electric vehicles, the data infrastructure will leverage established data systems at IRIS and OERC to link person-level grant data from universities to state employment records, enabling stakeholders to trace the movement of scientific talent from federally funded research projects into the private sector, to identify the economic impacts on firms that hire grant-funded innovators, and to better identify–and support–states’ emerging technology ecosystems.

Advisory boards of representatives from universities and state workforce agencies will advise the project’s development, ensuring that the prototype will be scalable to additional states and technologies. The university advisory board, drawn from the members of SSRC’s College and University Fund for the Social Sciences and IRIS, will ensure that the data infrastructure enables universities to more accurately document the contributions of their research efforts to states’ economic development, and to secure additional research funding in emerging technologies. The state advisory board will ensure that the data infrastructure enables state governments to more effectively measure job quality in emerging technology industries, and to develop policies to support the growth of those industries. The university and state advisory boards will work together to ensure that the project empowers university and state agency partnerships that attract new investment in states’ innovation economies, and that measure the impacts of those investments.