Using science to jump-start growth

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Though Jonathan Gruber finds Rochester an ideal candidate to become a next-generation technology hub, he says it would take a powerful commitment to science to make that happen.

Jonathan Gruber

The Ford Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-author of “Jump-Starting America: How Breakthrough Science Can Revive Economic Growth and the American Dream,” will be in Rochester this week to participate in a panel discussion at the University of Rochester. Gruber is known for his research in public finance and health economics. He was a key architect of Massachusetts’ health reform, and was a technical consultant to the Obama administration and Congress in drafting the Affordable Care Act. 

In their book, Gruber and Simon Johnson, the Kurtz Professor of Entrepreneurship at MIT and a former chief economist to the International Monetary Fund, find jobs and economic growth tend to be concentrated in a few areas along the nation’s east and west coasts. The book, which targets cities other than the obvious growth hubs, attempts to provide a blueprint for creating a growth engine.

The Beacon posed four questions to Gruber in anticipation of his trip to Rochester. Here are his answers:

You believe Rochester is “an ideal candidate to become a next generation technology hub.” In fact, in your new book, you rank it No. 1 among potential tech hubs. How did Rochester earn this ranking?

We think that what makes a great candidate city is a large, high skilled working-age population, an excellent university base, and an attractive standard of living. Rochester, with 560,000 people age 25 to 64, where a third of the population has a college degree, and where the average house price is only $170,000, is a perfect fit.  So are many other cities around the U.S: We identify 102 cities in 36 states which could be next-generation tech hubs.

What would it take to jump-start economic growth here?

While the conditions are great in Rochester, they still have a tough time competing with the “superstar cities” like Boston, New York City, Seattle and San Francisco that dominate economic growth. To compete with these cities, Rochester needs to demonstrate an enormous commitment to scientific advance that will bring the best scientists and an influx of capital to finance new businesses.  And that means a dedicated, enormous financial commitment to science in the city.

What stands in our way? What are some of the challenges we face?

The main challenge is just the sheer scale of difference between the opportunities in these “superstar” cities and in places like Rochester.  To compete, Rochester needs to be able to convince companies like Amazon that if they settle here, they will find the skilled workers, standard of living, and capital commitments to build a new business center.

What advice would you give the community to become active participants in our economic growth?

I think the best advice is to recognize that ultimately it will take a federal jump-start to really move a city like Rochester to “superstar” status.  So convincing federal policy makers to help shift the locus of U.S. economic activity away from the superstar cities and towards places like Rochester is a key first step.

Gruber will speak along with Staci Henning of Greater Rochester Enterprise, Robert Duffy of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, and James Senall of Nextcorps on Wednesday, April 17, 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., in the Hawkins-Carlson Room at UR’s Rush Rhees Library.

2 thoughts on “Using science to jump-start growth

  1. I attended the Jon Gruber presentation and the subsequent panel discussion including Bob Duffy of GRCC. After the meeting, I forwarded the following question to him: There’s an interesting contrast between Rochester being identified as the #1 community out of a 100+ in the country to “develop the new American growth engine” with Rochester being one of the most impoverished cities and having one of the weakest performing school districts in the Country … and both are connected by institutional & structural racism. How will these dramatically contrasting characterizations of Rochester be reconciled in what may be a developing GRCC plan in “Jump-Starting Rochester”?

    I have not yet received a response to this question which I think many in the Community would be interested in as well.

  2. “… ultimately it will take a federal jump-start to really move a city like Rochester to “superstar” status.”

    Coming on the heels of the informative article on the millions of dollars put into the Luminate program, it seems fair to ask: exactly *how* much of a jump-start do we need the Feds to put in to the Region? Not trying to be negative here, but the state already puts in, and as I recall from a study done years ago by Judy Albers when she was at Excell, something like 12 BILLION dollars in federal grant money flowed to universities upstate. Which I’d think would have some accelerating effect on the local economy?

    Again, I’m certainly not against money coming to our region, but all the Beacon articles I’ve read seem to have a common thread of thinking that money alone doesn’t suffice. Also, I am surely not the only one to notice the oddness of the word “wager” in the Beacon article “The Luminate Wager?” I’ve met Sujatha, she’s extraordinarily qualified, and “wager” seems almost a pejorative in the context of her running the Luminate program. So is it more that there’s a common — perhaps accurate? — sense here that lots of money is spent all the time, to little effect?

    I certainly don’t know the answer to “how much is enough,” I look forward to being edified at the Gruber/Duffy/Senall talk.

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