WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), both members of the Senate Appropriations Committee and Senate Competitiveness Caucus, announced 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 spur greater economic investment as COVID-19 continues to strain the economy and place renewed emphasis on sectors key to economic resiliency and competitiveness, 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 in 2021. 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.

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.

“As we work to rebuild the U.S. economy from the COVID-19 pandemic, we have to do two things. First, we must strengthen America’s resiliency by investing aggressively in research and development, from advanced manufacturing, to medical technologies, to energy and cybersecurity. Second, we must strive for a recovery that is shared broadly across all regions and socioeconomic groups,” said Senator Coons. “The Innovation Centers Acceleration Act will not only strategically fund new R&D, but it will also ensure that growth does not concentrate in a handful of large cities, and instead gives new regions and diverse populations a chance to equitably share in the growth of the global economy.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed us to reexamine how we invest in economic development and innovation within our cities,” said Senator Durbin. “I’m proud to introduce the Innovation Centers Acceleration Act with Senator Coons.  Our bill will enable federal agencies to work alongside research institutions and private industry, and invest federal resources in U.S. cities to become hubs for innovation once again.”

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, Brookings Metropolitan Studies Program, 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.”

“In recent years the hyper-concentration of U.S. technology activity in a few ‘superstar’ cities has likely harmed the industry while breeding unacceptable economic and social divides. Now, though, the Innovation Centers Acceleration Actproposes to counter this excessive divergence by helping some promising new places gain traction in the sector,” said Mark Muro, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. “At last maybe the nation is ready to really try to widen tech’s circle to promote wider opportunity—and enhance U.S. competitiveness.”

“The Association of American Colleges and Universities is pleased to endorse theInnovation 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 theInnovation 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.

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