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Sens. Coons, Durbin announce legislation to expand federal R&D, extend tech economy to more cities across America

March 19, 2021

Cities beyond existing tech hubs poised to help lead nationwide competition with China in tech, science, and medical innovation

WASHINGTON, MARCH 19, 2021 – This week, U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), both members of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Senate Competitiveness Caucus, reintroduced the Innovation Centers Acceleration Act, a bill which would expand research and development (R&D), targeted to reach a broader portion of the country. The legislation would complement a nationwide effort to compete with China economically by placing renewed emphasis on sectors key to economic resiliency and productivity, including biomedical technology, advanced manufacturing, and more.

The legislation responds to the current trend of underinvestment in national innovation. Notably, U.S. federal investment in R&D is at its lowest level since 1955, harming both productivity and global competitiveness. For the very first time, the United States is projected to fall behind China in R&D investment this year. Additionally, innovation is currently over-concentrated, which limits potential for advancement.  Five American metropolitan areas – Boston, San Francisco, San Jose, Seattle, and San Diego ­– accounted for more than 90% of the nation’s innovation sector growth from 2005 to 2017. Meanwhile, half of U.S. metropolitan areas have lost innovation jobs since 2005. These regions are losing out on productivity growth that helps to create jobs and raise living standards.

“As we work to rebuild the U.S. from COVID-19 and secure our position as a global economic leader, we have to strengthen American resiliency in key economic sectors and guide a recovery that is shared broadly across all regions and socioeconomic groups,” said Senator Coons. “The Innovation Centers Acceleration Act will not only fund new R&D so that we stay ahead of China and strategic competitors, but it will also ensure that growth does not concentrate in a handful of large cities. We must give new regions and diverse populations a chance to equitably share in the growth of the global economy.”

“Reimagining how we invest in economic development and innovation in American cities can help us compete with countries like China on the world stage,” said Senator Durbin. “The Innovation Centers Acceleration Act would boost federal investment in fields like advanced manufacturing and biomedical technology to accomplish that goal and create jobs of the future.”

In the House of Representatives, the Innovation Centers Acceleration Act is led by U.S. Representatives Joseph Morelle (D-N.Y.) and Terri Sewell (D-Ala.), both members of the New Democrat Coalition, which has included the bill among its economic stimulus priorities for the Biden Administration.

“COVID-19 has posed an unprecedented challenge to our nation, and so it must be met with unprecedented action, investment, and ingenuity. We need bold solutions to jump-start our economy and get Americans back to work, and my legislation would do just that,” said Representative Morelle. “Not only is this a sector in which Monroe County is uniquely poised to lead thanks to our world-class universities and high-tech institutions, it is one that holds significant untapped potential across the country. I’m so proud of the growing support the Innovation Centers Acceleration Act continues to receive I look forward to working with my partners toward its swift passage.”

“The Innovation Centers Acceleration Act takes a crucial step to establish the United States as a global leader in industries that will shape the 21st century. We have faced unprecedented challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Representative Sewell. “As we work to rebuild our economy, we must tap the talent and potential of cities like Birmingham and unleash innovation in growing sectors like advanced manufacturing and biomedical technology. The Innovation Centers Acceleration Act will make critical investments in communities across the country and expand our ability to compete in these critical industries.”

The Innovation Centers Acceleration Act would respond to the economic slowdown and the inefficient landscape of American innovation by:

  • Launching a national competition for U.S. metropolitan areas to become an Innovation Center;
  • Encouraging metropolitan areas to unite public and private sector resources to apply to become an Innovation Center based on existing technical advantages, local research institutions, and industry core competencies;
  • Incentivizing potential Innovation Centers to consider racial equity and inclusive growth, to ensure affordable housing, and to scale up education and workforce development; and
  • Investing $80 billion in federal funds over nine years in selected Innovation Centers while supporting private sector-led growth.

Organizations to endorse the bill include the National League of Cities, the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the American Chemical Society, the Association of American Colleges & Universities, the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce, and the University City Science Center.

“Advanced technology jobs play a key role in American competitiveness and economic opportunity. But too many are concentrated in too few places,” said Rob Atkinson, President of Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF).“The Innovation Centers Acceleration Act would play an important and needed role in helping spread the advanced tech economy to more places in America, not only helping more places and people gain needed opportunity, but also spurring overall U.S. global competitiveness.”

“The Association of American Colleges and Universities is pleased to endorse the Innovation Centers Acceleration Act of 2020, which would provide an urgently needed spur to innovation that is calibrated to meet the equally urgent need for equitable economic growth in the post-pandemic recovery,” said David Tritelli, Vice President for Communications and Public Affairs at the Association of American Colleges and Universities.

“The American Chemical Society (ACS) is encouraged to see the introduction of the Innovation Centers Acceleration Act of 2020, which would support the research and development that drives our economy. Investment in graduate student research opportunities, R&D tax credit and small business support, workforce development and STEM apprenticeships are all key components of a thriving and diverse innovation pipeline,” said Glenn Ruskin, Vice President of External Affairs & Communications at the American Chemical Society. “The ACS applauds the leadership of Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and looks forward to building a broad coalition of support behind this legislation.”

A one-pager on the bill is available here. Bill text can be found here.