Massachusetts Business Czar Greg Bialecki’s Innovation Agenda: The Xconomy Interview, Part One

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if things go well and are done right, government can be a great partner in supporting business. So, for example, in the life sciences and healthcare, everybody who is involved understands that it’s an industry that is very involved with government, which approves drugs, licenses hospitals and doctors, pays a lot of the medical bills, and has supported basic research for decades. So the question is, is government going to be involved in a way that’s more useful or less useful. Whereas, to take another example, the IT industry does not have a history of close involvement with government. If you come up with a new piece of software, you don’t have to go to a federal agency to get it approved before you can sell it to the public, and the IT industry typically isn’t looking for a lot of public dollars to grow its business. So we are at a different starting place when we have conversations with folks in the IT industry.

Working with folks in the life sciences industry, from Day One it was a given that state government could be productively involved and could be a useful partner. In the IT industry we’ve had to start with the very basics, which is, [finding out] is there a sense in which government could be a useful partner in promoting and supporting the industry. But we have started a real dialogue, and it has proceeded quickly. Folks in the IT industry have said, “Well, okay, why don’t you tell us some more about the kinds of things where you say you have a constructive role as a supporting partner in the life sciences.” We said, for example, that we are advocating that the educational system in Massachusetts support young people with the talents, skills, and knowledge that are going to support the life sciences industry. For example, we’re making a big push on the importance of STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] education. And the IT people said, “Well, we would want that too.” And similarly, when we said we are going to do something to make sure that the young people who go to college here are aware of all the great companies and job opportunities here, so they’ll at least give a hard look at staying here and not go back to other states or countries. And the IT industry said, “We’d like that too.”

So it turns out, over the last couple of years, as we have been having conversations with different folks in the life sciences, clean energy, IT, financial services, manufacturing, and trying to understand what they want from state government, there is a common thread, and I think it can be described as an innovation agenda.

If you look at how manufacturing has evolved in Massachusetts over the last 20 years, the low-cost, low-value manufacturing is gone. What kind of manufacturing is still here? It’s making very sophisticated products like robots and Patriot missiles and implantable medical devices and radar systems. So the education required tobe a production factory worker in Massachusetts today is totally different from what it was 20 years ago. So actually having an educational system that teaches young people about math and science and computers is as important as having a manufacturing workforce. We also heard time and time again from business that the basic research being done here at our universities is terribly important. There are lots of great ideas coming up, so how do we support them? It’s a common goal of state government and business to make sure that our universities and private center of research continue to do a lot of work and that we get as much federal funding as we can for them, and make sure that K-12 education works well for all those folks. There are probably very few of those things where we are going to be able to single-handedly change the way things are. So part of the conversation with the business and academic community is, let’s talk about and understand the most significant opportunities and challenges to tackle, and how to tackle them together. There are some things we can do better than other folks, and some things that business can do better than we can.

Coming tomorrow in Part Two: Bialecki speaks about the state’s role in technology transfer, how it can help the IT sector as well as the life sciences and clean energy sectors, why the Patrick Administration hasn’t gotten behind proposed reforms in employment law to restrict non-compete agreements, and why it’s taking so long for the state to issue new consumer data protection regulations.

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