State’s Future Depends on Knowledge Economy
Two new studies show why state needs to support its universities.
The first list was from a report issued by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program. That study listed the top 10 cities in the U.S. for growth in innovation industries such as software, pharmaceuticals, semiconductors and data processing. These jobs account for a growing share of the nation’s economy and are closely linked to research funding and an educated workforce. With one exception, all the cities on the list were part of large metropolitan areas (populations over 1 million) and were, for the most part, on the coasts. Yet there was one city included on the list that didn’t fit that pattern. Madison was ranked seventh of all American cities for gains in innovation jobs. Madison was the only smaller metropolitan area and the only one located in the nation’s heartland. The report points out that these innovation industries, with their generally well-paying jobs, usually locate in cities with a good supply of highly educated workers and research institutions.
While it was a coincidence that these two studies happened to come out in the same week, their juxtaposition points to several important takeaways:
1. Wisconsin punches way above its weight when it comes to higher education. Wisconsin is right in the middle of the 50 states is population and wealth, yet we have one of the best universities in the country — largely because we have historically invested in higher education. That investment pays off big. It’s no accident that a Wisconsin city was on the list of prosperous high-tech towns. UW–Madison-related startup companies support nearly 25,000 jobs and contribute $2.3 billion to the state economy.
2. Wisconsin’s slide compared to other universities is entirely predictable. The Walker administration weakened tenure, sharply cut funding and repeatedly demeaned the work of the university. Several professors have left the university recently (along with their research dollars) because of Walker’s approach to the university. If not reversed, this will hurt Wisconsin’s competitiveness for future innovation jobs.
3. The Brookings Institution report highlights that the benefits of the growth in the knowledge economy are unevenly distributed, and that is exacerbating geographic inequality. This has brought about widespread resentment — a resentment that has been exploited politically by Donald Trump and Scott Walker, among others.
It is in the interest of successful areas like Madison to spread the benefits of the growing knowledge economy to other parts of the state and nation. As the Brookings Institution report’s author points out, “Political support for publicly funded research will crumble unless more of the country enjoys the benefits from innovation.”
This column was originally published by the Cap Times in Madison.
Spencer Black represented the 77th Assembly District for 26 years and was chair of the Natural Resources Committee.