Renew America COMPETES to spur innovation, job growth

I recently visited iDevices, a groundbreaking company in Avon, Connecticut that’s developed everything from a wearable Bluetooth app to an advanced smart meat thermometer. Companies like iDevices are the epicenters of job creation in America: they combine innovative products with the can-do, entrepreneurial spirit of their founders to benefit consumers and provide stable, well-paying jobs for millions of Americans. If our economy is to truly recover from the meltdown of 2008, we must invest in the education and research infrastructure necessary to help companies like iDevices start and grow.

Congress can keep the momentum for innovation and competitiveness strong by reauthorizing the America COMPETES Act. Few of our leaders understand this as well as my colleagues in the New Democrat Coalition. We recently joined together to author principles outlining what we believe must be contained in the final bill – investments in STEM education, assistance for high-tech manufacturers and refocused efforts to spur public-private partnerships in research. These principles aren’t controversial. They’re commonsense ways to support the innovation ecosystem that both parties support.

ADVERTISEMENT
What is America COMPETES? It’s a law that receives less attention on the Hill than the high-profile fights on the budget and comprehensive immigration reform, but is no less important to the future of our economy and our nation. It passed in 2007 with broad, bipartisan support. At the time, leaders in the public and private sectors had become gravely concerned that developing countries, especially China and India, were aggressively investing in upgrades to their technical capability through education and research funding. Today, it’s a successful law that has kept America on the leading edge of science and technology, recalibrating our R & D efforts to support a range of industries, including manufacturing and biotechnology.

That’s why we absolutely must renew COMPETES. It’s not enough for elected officials to offer kind words of support for research and development – we need real investments backing the federal government’s commitment to technological advancement. This commitment has paid outstanding dividends in the past: 75 percent of all economic growth since World War II can be attributed to technological advancements. It’s a commitment that’s led to consistent job creation: our R&D investments support over 2 million jobs nationwide. And it’s a commitment that’s led to higher wages for American workers – 70 percent of what companies use to claim the Research & Development Tax Credit goes directly to the paychecks our workers bring home. It would be a shameful missed opportunity for our country if we turned our backs on research now.

I joined leaders in the New Democrat Coalition to release a blueprint for America’s economic and scientific growth through the reauthorization of America COMPETES. Our plan would continue to encourage public-private partnerships that work at a community level, like the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR). It would build a 21st Century workforce for America by enhancing the quality of STEM programs at all levels of our education system. It would even tap into an incentive-based system to discover inventive and scalable solutions through new prize competitions that linked the private, philanthropic and public sectors. Our New Democrat Coalition priorities would help companies like iDevices tap into the innovative energies of the American people and bring those energies to bear on job creation.

The Science, Space and Technology Committee will consider America COMPETES in the coming weeks. As they do, I will continue working with my fellow New Democrats on the committee, leaders like Reps. Scott Peters (Calif.) Ami Bera (Calif.), Derek Kilmer (Wash.) and Dan Maffei (N.Y.) to ensure that our principles become part of the final reauthorization.

Innovators in Connecticut and across the country are counting on us.

Esty has represented Connecticut's 5th Congressional District since 2013. She sits on the Science, Space and Technology and the Transportation and Infrastructure committees.