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Building Networks to Advance the Innovation Economy

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Guest blog post by John Fernandez, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development

Like President Obama, the top priority of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s new Secretary John Bryson is jobs. Advancing innovative economies is key to achieving sustainable job creation.

Today I traveled to Columbus, Ohio to address innovators, technology business leaders and economic development professionals to discuss ways to accelerate America’s innovation economy to create good jobs and increase our global competitiveness.

I was joined by my colleagues Phil Singerman, Associate Director for Innovation and Industry Services at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and Sean Greene, Associate Administrator for Investment and Special Adviser for Innovation at the Small Business Administration at a conference hosted by State Science & Technology Institute (SSTI) – an organization that seeks to improve the economy through science and technology.  We discussed how under President Obama’s leadership federal agencies are making the smart investments needed to promote American innovation and support entrepreneurship and small business development.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), in partnership with SSTI, launched the Regional Innovation Acceleration Network (RIAN), a platform to connect Venture Development Organizations (VDO) that are collaborating to turn innovations into companies. RIAN provides tools and services, including an interactive map designed to help economic development practitioners identify their regional innovation colleagues, where they operate and connect with them.

EDA grantee Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania is one of many successful VDOs that is driving regional economic and job growth. The organization invests in early stage technology entrepreneurs to help create sustainable technology jobs. They have recently expanded their Ben Franklin TechVentures facility in Lehigh Valley to support more innovative research and cutting-edge ideas. The project is expected to create up to 200 sustainable, high-paying technology jobs and retain 100 additional jobs at new, start-up companies in its first three years. TechVentures has already launched 44 successful companies, grossing more than $675 million in annual revenue and creating more than 4,000 jobs since 1983.

VDO’s represent one of the most promising approaches for the future success of economic development. They are non-profit, business driven partnership organizations that include government, community foundations, universities and civic organizations that work together to promote technology and innovation-based development. 

Collaboration is an important catalyst to developing strong public-private partnerships and regional innovation clusters. There is no question that the private and public sectors will need to work together to create the jobs and industries of the future. 

With the help of platforms like RIAN, entities like Chicagoland Entrepreneurial Center, the Center for Innovation in Grand Forks, N.D., Innovation Works in Pittsburgh, Pa., Oregon Entrepreneurs Network, and JumpStart Inc., in Cleveland, Ohio will receive much needed support to connect, hire, and grow.

EDA is pleased to partner with SSTI on this vital effort to help accelerate job creation and put Americans back to work, which is the goal of President Obama’s American Jobs Act.

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