By Amy Klobuchar
Innovation is key to Minnesota’s private-sector job creation and economic success in the years ahead.
Take the Center for Applied Mechatronics at Alexandria Technical College, for instance. It provides education for the technologically advanced fields of manufacturing automation and motion control, especially in the packaging industry.
In a time when too many people are out of work, the program has a job placement rate of 96 percent. It prepares students for high-tech positions that do not require a Ph.D. or even a four-year college degree, but nonetheless demand specialized training and experience.
What’s going on at Alexandria Tech and at so many other universities, colleges, and technical schools across Minnesota builds on our state’s long history of innovation. Ours is a state that has given the world everything from the pacemaker to the Post-It Note.
Innovation has been our strongest competitive advantage, both as a state and as a nation. In recent years, however, America’s position as the global leader in innovation has been challenged.
According to a recent study by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, the U.S. now ranks sixth out of 40 industrialized nations for innovative capacity and international competitiveness, and ranks last in efforts to improve either of those capabilities.
If the U.S. economy is to recover fully, I believe we need to adopt a comprehensive competitive national agenda to spur innovation.
That is why I hosted an innovation summit in January at the University of Minnesota. Attended by hundreds, the meeting was an opportunity for business leaders, educators and policy experts to discuss the strategies needed to sharpen America’s innovative edge and ability to compete in the global economy.
And building upon this summit, this month I introduced the Innovate America Act with Scott Brown, my Republican colleague from Massachusetts.
This legislation would deliver a series of targeted tax incentives to stimulate more private-sector research and development; cut excess red tape that strangles innovation by small businesses; expand opportunities for science, technology, engineering and math education; promote exports by small and mid-sized businesses; and encourage higher education institutions to convert their research into products and jobs.
Many of the ideas included in our legislation came from meetings and discussions I’ve had with business owners, workers, teachers and students across our state about how we can best move our economy forward.
In January and February, I visited more than 20 Minnesota communities to meet with local entrepreneurs; see the schools that educate them; and hear from local leaders who want to do everything they can to promote economic development.
I went to the University of Minnesota Duluth and Minnesota State University Moorhead as well as technical colleges in Rochester, Alexandria, Anoka, and Brooklyn Park.
In Rochester, the Mayo Clinic and Rochester Community and Technical College have partnered to develop a training program that will prepare nursing students to become a part of Mayo’s pioneering patient care system.
I also visited successful homegrown businesses like Minnesota Rubber & Plastics in Litchfield, SJE-Rhombus in Detroit Lakes, Ultra Machining Company in Monticello and Wells Technology in Bemidji. They have all increased their number of employees during the past year.
For example, Ultra Machining has steadily grown into one of the premier manufacturers of precision machined parts and assemblies, especially for the medical device and aerospace industries. It is a great example of a business that has been able to expand and add new jobs even during very difficult economic times.
There are many gems of innovation like this in Minnesota communities, large and small. They are already producing the jobs of tomorrow - today. We need more like them.
With countries like China and India moving full-steam ahead, neither Minnesota nor America can afford to rest on our laurels. We have been an innovation leader before, and that is what we need to be again.
Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, is Minnesota's senior U.S. senator.