R&D dollars at colleges boost jobs, study says

October 02, 1994|By Timothy J. Mullaney | Timothy J. Mullaney,Sun Staff Writer

A new study by a University of Maryland researcher says research and development spending at universities has a positive impact on creating high-wage high-technology jobs, but that later-stage research leading directly to new products does much more to create jobs.

The study, written by Zoltan Acs of the College Park campus' Center for International Business Education and Research and two Scottish academics, traced R&D spending and high-tech job growth in 37 U.S. cities. The authors concluded that doubling university research and development spending on average increases high-tech employment by 8 percent.

"The number is not large, but it is [statistically] significant," Mr. Acs said. "It is not due to chance."

Mr. Acs said earlier studies have found ties between major universities with big research budgets and patents issued to companies in nearby communities. But he said his report is believed to be the first to make specific, quantitative relationships between university research and job growth.

Maryland economic development officials have said they hope to use the state's research base, which is largely based on work being done at the University of Maryland, the Johns Hopkins University, and the Bethesda-based National Institutes of Health, as a linchpin of job creation efforts.

"What they found is sort of reassuring to us because it's consistent with our view of the world," said Mitch Horowitz, technology adviser to Mark L. Wasserman, secretary of Maryland's Department of Economic and Employment Development.

But Mr. Acs said more than just research is needed.

Job growth comes four times faster when new products are introduced to the market than when money is put into research, he said. That means state policy-makers may want to pay less attention to boosting research spending than to removing barriers between research and getting local companies to put new products on the market, such as high taxes and poor access to venture capital.

"What is really lacking in Baltimore in no way is the research effort," Mr. Acs said. "It is the commercialization effort."

Mr. Horowitz said the state has undertaken a lot of mostly small-scale efforts to speed commercialization. The state has created a publicly backed venture capital trust, invested some state pension dollars in venture capital, and is building a public center that fledgling biotech companies can use for their initial manufacturing before they need to make enough of a product to justify building factories of their own.

The study's other key finding was that university research spending on environmental sciences, engineering, and hard sciences as a group generate jobs faster than spending on biological sciences and biotechnology. That could be bad news for Maryland because so much of its research base is health-related.

But Martek Biosciences Corp. CEO Henry Linsert noted that his firm is developing products in Columbia based on university research done as far away as Scotland.

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