A bit of interesting research I read in the last few weeks comes from a working paper that can be found on the website of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER). This paper was written by Lynne Zucker and Michael Darby at UCLA in April 2006 and is titled "Movement of Star Scientists and Engineers and High-Tech Firm Entry."
Zucker and Darby's earlier research in the late 1990s coined the term "star scientists" to describe very prolific researchers in the field of biotechnology, specifically genetic sequencing. These star researchers were extremely influential to the establishment of the biotechnology industry in America and the success of specific firms, demonstrating how important expert human capital is to economic growth.
Their latest study in 2006 extends the star scientist concept beyond that of just biotechnology. In many scientific fields, even as their research and knowledge within the field spreads over time, the physical presence of these star researchers is key to where high-tech firms develop. They find these "stars" tend to cluster over time, instead of diffusing geographically.
This research compliments the trend in the tech-based economic development world, with regions and states creating incentive programs to attract the best and the brightest researchers across the world to their campuses. The Georgia Research Alliance in the state of Georgia is often used by other states as a model for their programs. Florida State University announced their effort to recruit 200 tenured and tenured-track researchers to their campus in the next 5 years. And sometimes attracting a single faculty member can bring their entire laboratory with them, with multiple graduate students, laboratory technicians, and millions of dollars.
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Is all this leading to a race? A race for the best minds in the research world who are expected to bring increased funding, start-up firms, and an enhanced reputation to campus and the region?
Just like the “smokestack chasing” that many regions in the country use to attract industry through tax incentives, the next wave of incentives offered by regions may lead to “faculty chasing” throughout the country . . .
So while the debate over the best way to attract both industry and individuals is bound to continue, it brings to mind some questions that the leaders of our area may want to consider:
Should Youngstown begin to shift its recruiting efforts away from attracting companies, and more effort be placed in attracting star individuals?
Should Youngstown take steps to protect itself from outside competition, and make sure its existing researchers are as happy as can be, to minimize the possibility of their departure?
Does Youngstown and the region give as much attention to human capital development as they do to site preparation and industrial development?
Should Youngstown and other educational institutions in Northeast Ohio initiate their own multi-million dollar recruitment programs to bring the best and the brightest to the region?