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New National Labs Report Encourages Going Local on Innovation

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Last week the Brookings Institution released a report on the Department of Energy’s national laboratories and their role in spurring U.S. innovation and competitiveness.

According to the scholars who developed the report, Mark Muro and Scott Andes of Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program and Matthew Stepp of the Center for Clean Energy Innovation and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, the national labs have even more economic potential than they’re currently using—and should focus that potential on their local regions to best foster growth and innovation.

"We contend that regional economic development can be an important adjunct to—and expression of—the lab system’s national scientific mission. By engaging more with relevant local industry clusters, the labs can contribute more to local and national economic growth, as well as profit themselves," they wrote in a post about their report.

The report suggests "tweaks" to achieve this goal, including regional partnership criteria; a commercialization fund managed by the tech transfer office; expedited, regionally focused lab agreements; innovation vouchers; "microlabs"; and some measures to increase flexibility of funding. The authors said that their recommendations "would prioritize the labs’ economic and tech-transfer activities; facilitate more interaction with small- and medium-sized businesses; increase the institutions’ relevance to local clusters; and provide local lab managers greater discretion."

This issue is getting quite a bit of attention. Around the same time the Brookings report was released, directors of four national labs published an editorial touting the labs’ capabilities and their role in U.S. innovation. According to the directors, "The National Lab System invents, builds, and operates one-of-a-kind research facilities and specialized equipment found nowhere else. These unique facilities...are the foundries of our future technologies, occupying an experimental niche that universities and the profit-driven private sector simply cannot match."

It’s all led up to a number of discussions taking place today on Capitol Hill. This morning, the report authors and other experts discussed the labs’ role in U.S. innovation and competitiveness at a breakfast briefing with the House Science and National Laboratory Caucus. Then, this afternoon, the Energy Secretary is hosting a National Lab Day, which will feature roundtable discussions and a science and technology exhibition to share the labs’ work on pressing national issues.

You can read some more thoughts on the report at Science Insider, Albuquerque Business First, the Santa Fe New Mexican, and The Advocate.

We want to know your thoughts about all this buzz and what it means for you! Let us know in the comments.

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