States find rewards from high-tech investments, given time and patience

High-tech happens organically in places with built-in advantages, but it can happen elsewhere too, and state investments can play a part, says University of Illinois sociology professor Kevin Leicht, the lead author on a nationwide study of such investments. Credit: L. Brian Stauffer

States have spent millions to develop high-tech industry, with its promise of good jobs and economic growth.

But does the public investment pay off? A national study of such investments in the 1980s and 1990s suggests it does – including in places where prospects for high-tech seems less than ideal.

The key for these state programs is often patience and modest expectations, says University of Illinois sociology professor Kevin Leicht, the study’s lead author.

“What you can’t expect is that you’re going to grow the next Silicon Valley, because Silicon Valleys aren’t born overnight and their advantages are not disappearing,” Leicht said. “But you can start the networking processes and the investments that will very slowly grow high-technology jobs and development.”

The study, “State investments in high-technology job growth,” is reported in the journal Social Science Research.

“You don’t have to necessarily put a huge amount of money into these investments, and most states don’t,” Leicht said. “But you have to just keep doing it and plugging along and allow for a lot of failure, and in most cases, you’ll get something for it.”

For the purposes of the study, high-tech industries were defined as those with twice the average proportion of employees engaged in research and development.

Whether government programs or policies even have a role in developing high-tech has long been a question of debate, according to Leicht and his co-author, J. Craig Jenkins, a professor emeritus of sociology at The…

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