Brainpower, more than brawn, needed for good jobs

Published 1:39 pm Friday, June 17, 2011

An economy based on brainpower rather than brawn is absolutely critical to Louisiana’s future.

In Louisiana, we have lagged the South and the nation as high-tech jobs have flowed to states that invested heavily and steadily in universities as economic engines. Too many of our resources, financial and political, have been paid out to corporate hustlers instead of focusing on building first-class colleges and schools.

There are some positive signs.

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Art Cooper, who heads the Emerging Technologies Laboratory at LSU, recently gave an upbeat report about the efforts of the state’s chief research university to expand its contributions to the state’s economic future.

His “wet lab” is one of three built during the administration of Gov. Mike Foster and now filled with nascent companies in life-sciences fields. Its efforts are being supplemented with other universities and growing interaction with an emerging technology sector — EA Sports at LSU, the computer-game company, is well-known, he noted.

He said LSU is shedding a reputation — part legitimate, because of inexperience with the issues, and part “urban legend” — as being difficult to do business with on patents and intellectual property. “The issues you hear about at LSU are not at all unique to LSU,” Cooper said, and “great strides” have been made in making the process easier for companies and professors interested in commercializing their ideas.

The LSU Agricultural Center is the star in the system for generating licensing revenue for the university, because of Agricultural Center scientists’ innovations in rice and other crops. But there is growing potential in other areas of research, he told the City Club as part of its Distinguished Speaker Series.

Cooper cautioned that the lessons of more successful states include an emphasis on patience. The Research Triangle Park in North Carolina took decades to take off, although it is now the poster child for research-based economic progress. …

Still, if it’s a slower process, it’s one that has paid off big, from Austin in Texas to Raleigh in North Carolina.

Maybe we ought to start putting big bucks into our colleges and related efforts to grow our own jobs, instead of bidding with other states for industrial plant locations.