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Obama’s Innovation Speech

President Obama spoke today at Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y. and sought to assemble a variety of stimulus and other administration initiatives--community college funding, information technology (IT) initiatives, clean energy investments, advanced vehicle development programs--into a true plan for long-term economic revitalization through innovation.

And yet that’s unfair: “Sought to assemble” sounds snarky, but today’s speech and associated white paper actually pull a variety of disparate efforts into what comes close to resembling a true “national innovation strategy” such as we have been urging for several years be developed.

Welcome here, after a decade of drift, is a sharp critique of the “bubble-driven” growth of the recent past combined with Obama’s insistence that in transforming America into an innovation nation “government has a key role to play”:

A modern, practical approach recognizes both the need for the government to lay the foundations for innovation and the hazards of overzealous government intervention

Also welcome are multiple important policy proposals that would at once invest in the “building blocks” of American innovation, promote “competitive markets” that spur productive entrepreneurship, and catalyze “breakthroughs” for national priorities. These initiatives run from such fundamentals as enhanced R&D investment, skills building, and physical infrastructure investment to export and entrepreneurship promotion to selective work to overcome market failures to produce breakthroughs in clean energy, health care IT, and the commercialization of advanced research. 

Missing here is a focus on smaller-bore productivity enhancement across the run of existing businesses--something my colleague Howard Wial has advocated. But running through the agenda are multiple ideas we and others think would boost national innovation and productivity by boosting it at the metropolitan level, ranging from investments in the nation’s community colleges (see our paper here), the promotion of regional innovation clusters (paper here), and a major push to drive the commercialization of needed clean energy breakthroughs such as we have proposed here.

More remains to be seen on the outlines, strengths, and gaps of the Obama administration’s national innovation strategy, but for now it’s good to know we at least have one.