With voter approval of Proposition 301 in November 2000, millions of taxpayer dollars are pouring into science and high-tech research projects at the state's three universities.
But the economic return from that investment in terms of new jobs, personal income and tax receipts could take 20 years to materialize. In an effort to find more immediate ways to measure the success or failure of the sales-tax supported program, the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University has developed a new measurement framework called CAT — for Connections, Attention, Talent.
Instead of measuring the the return in direct dollars and cents, the institute is suggesting that other less easily quantifiable measures be used.
For example, how many connections do ASU researchers make with colleagues at top research institutions such as Cal Berkeley as a result of Proposition 301-funded projects? Or how much more attention do Arizona's universities receive in national, state and local media? Or how many additional talented faculty members and top science students are attracted in Arizona?
“We are developing the CAT measures to help state leaders get their arms around the many kinds of impacts from university science and technology research,” said Rob Melnick, director of the Morrison Institute. The institute has prepared a report called “Seeds of Prosperity: Public Investment in Science and Technology” to explain the CAT concept. The study is available at www.morrisoninstitute.org.
Because the program still is so new, the report doesn't try to apply the CAT measures to Proposition 301 spending so far. During the 2002 fiscal year, which ended on June 30, 2002, a total of $15.7 million was allocated for 301 research-related activities at the ASU main campus in Tempe, while $7.7 million was actually spent. For all three state universities, including branch campuses of ASU, total spending amounted to $23.7 million.
Figures for 301 research spending during fiscal 2003 will be presented to the Board of Regents next week. Among the ASU programs that have benefited from Proposition 301 so far are:
The Arizona Biodesign Institute, a mega-project that consolidates the university's bioscience research efforts under one roof.
The Consortium for Embedded and Inter-Networking Technologies, a research partnership involving ASU, Motorola and Intel that is working on new semiconductor technologies; Connection One, a consortium of ASU, the National Science Foundation and six high tech-companies that is developing wireless technologies.
The Center for Advancing Business Through Information Technology, which is helping businesses use technology more effectively.
The purpose of the Proposition 301 research program is to create “a fertile ground” that will produce technologies and products that can be commercialized and create jobs, personal income and other economic development benefits, said Rick Heffernon, co-author of the report. But those benefits take time to develop, and in a political atmosphere lawmakers and the public may not have the patience to to wait for long-delayed payoffs, he said. If they don't see immediate benefits, pressure could grow to end the program, he said.
“The time lines are so long that unless we have an indication of how we are doing, the public investment will dry up when it's needed the most,” he said. Complicating the situation is the fact that most states are increasing funding of high-tech research in hopes of spawning the next Microsoft or Intel. That means Arizona is facing tough competition in attracting venture capital and top researchers, even as it increases research spending.
“Everyone is pumping big bucks into science and technology research, and they all expect to move into the top tier in the knowledge economy,” Heffernon said. “Not every one can win this race.” By providing some immediate indicators of how the 301 program is doing, he said the CAT measurements could guide the investments over time to make the program more effective.
Heffernon said the Morrison institute hopes to develop a method for attaching a dollar value to the CAT measures to satisfy legislators and others who want that type of analysis. For example, he said, it may be possible to attach an economic value to attracting a top research scientist.
State Sen. Carolyn Allen, R-Scottsdale, a Proposition 301 proponent, said the CAT standards are a good way to assess the program, adding that supporters of the law never envisioned that would provide an immediate economic payoff.
“I am tired of Arizona being portrayed as a backward, backwoods state at the bottom of every measurable issue,” she said, and the 301 program will “put Arizona at the cutting edge of research breakthroughs.” She predicted the program will attract top people to the state universities, and more companies will want to move to Arizona as a result. “In the future we will be extremely happy to have this,” she said.