Stateline Story

South Lags in Industry Research

  • August 27, 2002
  • By Jason White

The New South looks uncomfortably like the Old South, as industry research in the region - a key component of economic and wage growth - lags behind the rest of the country, a new report shows. 

"Relative to the rest of the nation, we don't get our fair share," said Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton (D).

The report, which was released on the final day of the Southern Governors Association's annual meeting in New Orleans, shows that the 13 Southern states saw their share of industry-driven research fall to 7 percent of the nation's total in 2000. That figure stood at 8.8 percent in 1963.

"This is a very, very telling tale of where we are and where we need to go," said Mississippi Gov. Ronnie Musgrove (D).

The drop has occurred even as the Southern states have been leaders in attracting large-scale industrial projects to the region. But these projects tend to be run by corporations with headquarters in other states or even other countries. As a result, the profits and the high-paying jobs within these corporations often reside elsewhere.

"The South invented modern industrial recruitment, and we created millions of jobs in the course of that, that improved the lives of millions of people," said Jim Clinton, executive director of the Southern Growth Policies Board, the North Carolina think tank that authored the report.

But, "in effect we remained tenant farmers someone else owned the farm and we provided the labor," Clinton said.

The report did reveal some bright spots for Southern states. During the past few decades, their share of university and federal research has increased. These areas constitute one-quarter of total research and development, with the remaining 75 percent performed by industry.

In addition, the report provides a roadmap for Southern states interested in modernizing and improving their economies.

The report encourages governors to create a culture of learning throughout the South, in recognition of the fact that an educated workforce produces its own jobs and attracts quality jobs from elsewhere.

In addition, governors were encouraged to find ways to fund more research, both through state-funded initiatives and through outreach efforts to encourage private and federal investment in their states.

"In today's world of technological advances it's important to not only maintain, but to increase the level of research and development funding. So much of today's economy is based on the results of research," said Musgrove.

Musgrove has been active on the education and investment fronts in his own state. He has a plan to put an Internet-connected computer in every Mississippi classroom by the end of 2002. And he called a special session of the legislature late last month to provide an incentive package to persuade Howard Industries Inc., a major computer manufacturer, to expand its operations within the state.

Southern governors are hopeful that similar efforts to improve education and fund higher levels of research and development in their states will lead to greater wealth for their citizens.

As Clinton puts it: "If we invent it here, if we own it here, our citizens will win and our states will win."