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MTA sees improvement in annual Innovation Index survey

RIDGELAND — How is the state doing technologically? That’s a question the Mississippi Technology Alliance (MTA) has been asking each year since 2000 when the Innovation Index was established.

“We judge our success by our Innovation Index, which looks at how Mississippi is doing technologically,” said Heath Hall, vice president for external affairs and marketing. “We judge it every year and we have a lot going on.”

As with most measurements, there’s good news and bad news. Dr. Lyn Stabler, vice president for policy and analysis, said, “We’re doing well in some and not in others. Out of eight areas, we’ve reached three target areas,” she said. “When the process was established, we looked at things important to the technology life cycle and arrived at measures and baselines by looking at three years of historical data. That was based primarily on what neighboring states are doing.”

The eight measurements include statewide research capacity, industrial productivity, technology workforce development, university research and development, business research and development, technology business development, wealth creation and investment capital.

The state has increased in the following three areas: research and development expenditures, royalties from university patents and licenses (university research and development) and manufacturing (industrial) productivity.

“Now we need to raise our targets in some areas,” Stabler said. “But in areas like wealth creation, we’re not where we should be.”

She said MTA looks at average wages for high-tech, manufacturing and general wages. The fact that wages for everything have gone in the right direction is encouraging but typically wages for high tech and manufacturing are higher.

“The average wage of jobs is rising and that’s good, but we don’t know why. We haven’t studied it,” she said. “We’re trying to increase wages for high-tech jobs. As examples, that includes jobs in pharmaceuticals, audio/visual manufacturing, automobile manufacturing and medical equipment manufacturing.”

MTA set a goal of increasing royalties from university patents and licenses to $2.50 for every $1,000 of university R&D expenditures. The latest performance data indicates that $10.78 was earned per $1,000 of expenditures. The University of Mississippi accounted for a large portion of that with payments related to four potential new drugs that are now in various stages of clinical testing.

“It fluctuates from year to year as to which school earns the most,” Stabler said. “It can be a different school next year because this is research that is a long-term thing.”

The goal for industrial productivity was to increase the value added in manufacturing to $84,000 per manufacturing employee. The 2006 performance is $107,100, according to 2003 data from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s annual survey of manufacturers.

“That’s more value or output per employee, and some people would say that’s not necessarily a good thing because it takes fewer employees,” Stabler said.

The goal for statewide research capacity was to increase R&D expenditures to $17 for every $1,000 of gross state product. Based on 2003 data from the National Science Foundation, the 2006 performance is $20.98 for every $1,000 of GSP. That’s up significantly from the $9.98 of last year’s index and exceeds the 10-year goal.

In other areas of the index, Stabler says Mississippi is lagging behind because the state has not invested considerable amounts of funds into technology development in a focused way like other states have.

“We have not had those funds available and haven’t focused on infrastructure such as incubators that meet specific facility needs,” she said. “Also, we have not focused on programs to prepare the workforce for technology-related jobs. We’re not targeting education in specific areas.”
MTA administers and manages the United States Academic Decathlon where high school student teams participate in a spirited academic competition, going on to compete nationally. Recently, Madison Central High School won the National Academic Decathlon competition.

“We recognize that there is a brain drain that takes away a lot of engineers and scientists from the state,” she said, “and we encourage them to know they have a place and hope they’ll want to stay here.”

In an effort to bring some of that brain drain back to the state, MTA is developing a new program, the Executive Talent Exchange. Plans will be revealed, hopefully this fall, for the program that will recruit executive-level talent to come back to Mississippi and be involved in technology.

The Mississippi Angel Network was created to bring together accredited investors and technology companies seeking seed and growth capital. These upstart companies make presentations at quarterly meetings before investors from inside and outside the state.

“We’re very pleased with the enthusiasm of investors around the state,” Stabler said. “Our mission is to champion science and technology-based economic development for the state. One of the ways we do that is through delivering support and services to promote investment and business development. Operating the Angel Network is one of the services provided to contribute to the business and investment climate of the state.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.


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