21 Jul Wisconsin economy at a scientific crossroads, Doyle says
Menomonie, Wis.—Defending his focus on science to propel the state’s economy, Governor Jim Doyle said Wisconsin is at crossroads not unlike the one that transformed the state into America’s Dairyland 100 years ago.
The state was then a major wheat producer, but Doyle said people realized that the future of Wisconsin might not be in wheat but in the need to evolve through modern agricultural science. He noted the transition was the result of decisions made by state policy-makers, and today’s elected officials are in a similar position.
Doyle, speaking at the Wisconsin Science and Technology Symposium at the University of Wisconsin-Stout last week, said science and technology have become too meaningful to the state’s economic future to turn back.
“This was the kind of decision that has had an impact for over 100 years, and the decisions that we make in the next few years will determine our future for at least the next 50 years,” Doyle said.
Given UW-Madison’s standing as a top public research university, and the expertise at facilities like the Medical College of Wisconsin and the Marshfield Clinic, Doyle has maintained that Wisconsin is well positioned to be a player in biotechnology, including embryonic stem cell research. With its agriculture and forests, he believes the state is ideally suited to produce the next generation of alterative energy, cellulosic ethanol. The strategy is to build pillars of the state’s economy on improving people’s health and providing clean energy.
At UW-Stout, he touted Innovate Wisconsin, his plan to get the private sector more involved in research and development. Doyle has proposed giving companies that increase spending on research and development by 25 percent over their three-year average a dollar-per-dollar tax credit for every dollar spent above this threshold. He also has proposed sales tax and property tax exemptions on equipment used for R&D.
“We need to develop research and development in the private sector,” he stated. “We have done a great job in public research, but I want Wisconsin to be known as the leading state for energy and the center of biotech research on the private side.”
Doyle, who announced that UW-Madison biomolecular chemistry professor James Dahlberg would serve as his scientific advisor, was asked where information technology fits into his plans.
“I should have mentioned it,” he said, referring to his address at the symposium. “In many ways, it’s so integrated into everything else that we’re doing. For example, at the [Wisconsin] Institutes for Discovery, one of the major components is the information technology aspect.”
“IT is incredibly important to this because you can’t have modern scientific research without good information technology,” he said. “You can’t have good communications. You really can’t have anything. It’s pretty much interwoven in almost everything we’re doing now.”
Doyle also talked about improving the link between technology employment opportunities and technology education. He said the training that industry and universities are providing in western Wisconsin in nanotechnology is exactly the right thing to do. Doyle said the state needs to encourage students to get into science and technology, and said it’s ridiculous that Wisconsin does not have a state standard for three years of math and three years of science in high school.
“Our technical colleges have done well, but we’ve got more to do before we have a real alignment between what it is we’re training people in and what the jobs are,” he said.
A major theme of the symposium was the growing research opportunities on smaller state college campuses, which some believe would be aided if research-oriented professors were relieved of some teaching responsibilities. Doyle was non-committal on the subject, saying it’s a question of university governance.
“We have two very, very important missions at our university,” he said. “Number one is to educate people, to make sure students can get into the university, that it’s affordable, that they can get the classes they need, and have enough sections and enough professors to make sure they can get what they need and graduate.
“These institutions also are great centers of research, so you’ve got to balance those, and what that right balance is, the university has to figure that out.”
Department of Commerce
The governor said he’s open to naming a technology executive as the successor to Jack Fischer, who has resigned as secretary of the state Department of Commerce, but he added that the next secretary would have to be well rounded.
“I want to have somebody who certainly understands [technology],” he said. “We have a lot of aspects to our economy — manufacturing, agriculture, and the high-tech side of things — so I want to find somebody who understands all of the aspects of it because the Department of Commerce has really wide-ranging responsibilities.”
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