Now it’s time to get specific.
Several boards and commissions have promoted hightech industry in Arizona. Gov. Janet Napolitano has formed a new one, called the Governor’s Council on Innovation and Technology, to try to deal with specific problems and achieve measurable goals in the development of Arizona’s high-tech economy.
The council will draw up a blueprint for the government, education and private sectors that will focus on the state’s technology infrastructure, capital formation and technology transfer — three key areas viewed as needing improvement.
The approach is more results-oriented than techpromotion efforts of the past, said Ed Zito, regional president of Comerica Bank, who is serving as chairman of the council. In the process, he said the council is building on the work of such groups as the Arizona Science and Technology Council and Arizona Partnership for the New Economy.
"We are not trying to reinvent the wheel." he said. "We are looking at what is already out there, the best practices in other states, and put that in the context of where we are in Arizona."
Among those on the 31-member council are Avnet CEO Roy Vallee, Microchip Technology CEO Steve Sanghi and Ed Koopman, general manager of Boeing’s Arizona operations.
"There are tremendous growth prospects in the high-tech world, and having these minds together in one group will help Arizona tap into that potential," Napolitano said.
At its first meeting in February, the council set up three subcommittees to deal with technology transfer, capital formation and technology infrastructure — a category that includes work force training and encouraging Arizona companies to do business with each other rather than with out-of-state suppliers.
Zito believes increased technology transfers from university research labs to the commercial sector will be the key to re-energizing Arizona’s technology industries. That process is discouraged in Arizona because the state constitution prohibits the state’s universities from taking ownership stakes in any start-up companies that are formed to commercialize new technologies developed at those institutions. Such spinoff companies could potentially be an important source of new jobs and income for the state’s economy.
A bill is working its way through the Arizona Legislature that would put a constitutional amendment before the voters on the November 2004 ballot to drop that prohibition.
In addition to providing new revenue to the universities through royalties and equity ownership that could increase in value, technology transfer would also encourage research professors to remain with the universities, Zito said.
"This has a brain-drain effect," he said. "If a professor at the University of Arizona is onto a new technology, but he is precluded from benefiting from it, he is likely to leave the university and go into the private sector."
Encouraging technology transfer would help attract more venture capital to the state through new technologies developed here, he said.
The last piece of the puzzle the council will try to fit in place is building the technology infrastructure within the state to make it easier for Arizona businesses to buy from other Arizona businesses. That will involve developing a database that will provide information on the types of high-tech products and services available from Arizona companies, Zito said.
In the area of work force development the council will attempt to ensure that curriculums in high schools and colleges train a work force that will be attractive to high-tech companies, he said.
In each field the council will attempt to establish specific goals and then set out to measure the state’s accomplishments. Zito cited a program in Georgia in which the state identified the core competencies of its businesses and academic institutions, then set out to recruit the top 90 professionals in the world in those fields to further strengthen their capabilities.
"They have been able to recruit 45 out of the 90 they identified," he said.
The council hopes to have its legislative and policy recommendations drawn up by the end of this year.
Although the state is facing a massive budget deficit, Zito said many of the recommendations won’t be a drain on the taxpayers. In fact, the technology transfer provisions should produce revenue for the state government, he said.