Texas shouldn’t settle for third on R&D spending

When it comes to creativity and invention, Texas doesn’t always get the credit it deserves.

Savvy businesses leaders spent $12.9 billion a year on research and development programs in Texas, according to the National Science Foundation, and that doesn’t count publicly funded research at the state’s universities.

Overall, Texas ranks third in the nation in private R&D spending, and unlike other top-ranked states, the money goes to a fairly diverse range of industries, from energy to biomedicine to microchip engineering.

“It is those technology innovations and developments that help sustain our economy and our job growth,” said Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship. “It gives us a sustainable long-term advantage over other parts of the world.”

Research and development centers, both private and public, tend to sink their roots deep into a community and stay there for generations. The National Science Foundation survey found companies concentrate more than 50 percent of their R&D spending in just five states: California, Washington, Texas, Massachusetts and New Jersey.

States also tend to specialize, with Silicon Valley concentrated on information technology, Redmond, Wash., on software, Houston on energy, Boston on engineering, and the Princeton area on pharmaceuticals. But the National Science Foundation also calculated that among the five top-ranked states in R&D spending, Texas ranks last in R&D as a percentage of state gross domestic product.

Texans don’t like to be third place in anything, let alone last, so what would it take to become No. 1? California is the current leader, where businesses spend $64 billion a year on R&D, representing 24 percent of the $238 billion spent on R&D nationally in 2011.

Texas needs more public-private partnerships that develop a culture of innovation across university and corporate campuses to make Texas more competitive and ensure the state's economy diversifies and grows.
August 29, 2014
Houston Chronicle