Leaders Identify Challenges to Economic Innovation

Georgians describe issues at 'Innovation Forums' statewide

"How can communities harness the economic potential of technology and innovation?" That was the question posed to Georgians in a series of citizen forums earlier this year. Their answers are summarized in a report released June 4 at the annual meeting of the Southern Growth Policies Board in New Orleans.

The report -- The Report on Georgia's 2006 Innovation Forums-- examines innovation as a force to drive economic development in the state. New approaches, processes, products and ideas can help strengthen Georgia's ability to compete in the global economy.

"Georgians realize it is up to all of us to create a better environment for fostering innovation," wrote Governor Sonny Perdue. "We must ensure that all Georgians have access to the technology tools they need to spur innovation."

Nearly 400 Georgians participated in 18 forums around the state as part of an annual effort by a public policy think tank -- the Southern Growth Policies Board -- to identify economic development issues. Through the forums, citizens helped to identify the opportunities and challenges that will create a 'culture of innovation' in Georgia.

The forums and resulting report were led by the Georgia Institute of Technology and the University of Georgia in partnership with the Georgia Centers of Innovation and more than 20 local and regional partners.

Discussions explored four approaches to promote innovation: building knowledge, encouraging entrepreneurship, boosting existing business, and recruiting talent and investment.

Improving K-12 education and preparing children for jobs that require skills in math and science dominated discussions. The report cited a need for increased access to technology particularly in rural areas, taking a more customized approach to education, and making classroom instruction relevant to the real world. Citizens also said that communities must address issues related to developing both the existing and the future workforce barriers such as the dropout rate, issues of persistent poverty, and low expectations for achievement.

"What we heard from Georgians during this process reinforces the central role that education plays in the Southeast region's economic development," said Art Dunning, vice president for public service and outreach at the University of Georgia. "Universities contribute to innovation not only through instruction but also through basic research."

Forum participants discussed ways to encourage entrepreneurship. One suggestion was that each high school graduate learn the basic skills to start and run a business. Others emphasized the importance of understanding career choices at an early age.

Businesses owners said that existing businesses -- especially small to medium sized ones -- do not have the resources to invest in product development. They advocated a greater role for universities in fostering innovation.

"To succeed in the new global marketplace, companies must be able to rapidly develop and commercialize innovative products, processes and services ahead of their competition," said Wayne Hodges, vice provost in Georgia Tech's Enterprise Innovation Institute. "This report identifies some of the issues Georgia companies and communities must address to build a more competitive economy based on innovation."

The state has invested in innovation and technology transfer through programs such as the Georgia Research Alliance, which recruits top scientists for the research universities, and the Georgia Centers of Innovation, which supports entrepreneurs and researchers, connecting them to the resources they need to nurture innovation the areas of aerospace, agriculture, life sciences, robotics manufacturing and maritime logistics.

The report represents the first step in charting action plans tailored to each region of the state. The themes that emerged from the forums may inform program development and public policy.

Among specific themes emerging from the forums were:

- Spread the word on the importance of and vehicles to innovation;
- Foster a 'culture of learning;'
- Develop a more customized approach to education;
- Conduct special outreach starting as early as third and fourth grade, to students and their parents, before the 'light' goes out;
- Increase emphasis on developing critical thinking and problem solving skills among youth;
- Focus on fostering home-grown innovation among existing enterprises, especially entrepreneurs;
- Improve access to computers and Internet in all communities, across all socio-economic categories;
- Expand support for programs for communities to learn how to create a desirable environment for talented and creative people as a route to fostering innovation;
- Think regionally;
- Continue the dialogue.

The entire report can be downloaded from the following Web sites:

- http://www.fanning.uga.edu/news/news.html
- http://innovate.gatech.edu/Portals/0/ga-innov-forums.pdf

Research News & Publications Office
Enterprise Innovation Institute
Georgia Institute of Technology
75 Fifth Street, N.W., Suite 100
Atlanta, Georgia 30308 USA

Media Relations Contacts: John Toon, Georgia Tech (404-894-6986); E-mail: (jtoon@gatech.edu) or Kathleen Cason, University of Georgia (706-542-2512); E-mail: (kcason@uga.edu)

Technical Contacts: Joy Wilkins, Georgia Tech (404-895-6115); E-mail: (joy.wilkins@innovate.gatech.edu) or Mac Brown, University of Georgia (706-583-8284); E-mail: (macbrown@fanning.uga.edu).

The Southern Growth Policies Board is a non-partisan public policy think tank that provides a forum for decision makers in 13 Southern states to develop and advance visionary economic development policies. Georgia's report contributes to the Southern Growth Policies Board annual report.

The Southern Growth Policies Board's trustees from Georgia are Governor Sonny Purdue; State Representative David Casas; Chris Clark, deputy commissioner for global commerce at the Georgia Department of Economic Development; Nancy Cobb, executive director of the One Georgia Authority; O. B. McCorkle, president of the Warren County Chamber of Commerce; and State Senator Jeff E. Mullis.