“Should we fund a Manhattan-like project that develops a nuclear bomb to deal with global energy and alternative energy or should we fund 100,000 garages across America, the kind of industry and innovation that developed Silicon Valley?” Tom Brokaw posed that question to Sen. John McCain during a 2008 presidential debate. In a tidy encapsulation of why he isn’t president now, McCain offered a rather banal answer and quickly pivoted to grumbling about matters before the Senate.
The question is equally relevant when considered in the context of a national alternative energy strategy or a state’s economic development policy.
Gov. Dannel Malloy’s recent efforts to spur economic growth in the state answer the question in deed rather than word. He’s pledged $291 million in taxpayer dollars for the Jackson Laboratory project, $864 million for the Bioscience Connecticut additions to UConn Health Center, $15 million for CIGNA, shepherded $4.5 million to TicketNetwork, and $17.5 million for ESPN.
Connecticut under Gov. Malloy’s leadership is counting on the Manhattan Project-concept to get the state’s economy moving again. The choice between the strategies is as much philosophical as it is practical, but recent history suggests that government isn’t a good judge of who should be winners and losers. The fleeting promise of the Patriots coming to Connecticut or the empty urban revitalization efforts in Hartford, New London, and elsewhere bear witness to this fact.
Empowering and trusting 100,000 garages to produce the next great innovation is both easier and more difficult. It is easier because it simply requires state leaders to stop subsidizing every big name business that walks through the door. But this is also the challenge because cultivating an economic environment conducive to innovation, with a low cost of living and doing business, is hard.
There always seems to be eagerness to plow millions of dollars into another Jackson Lab or CIGNA instead of the hard work of reducing cost burdens and streamlining regulation.
As the world mourned the loss of Apple’s iconic CEO, Steve Jobs, in recent days, some of the most heartfelt tributes came from his high school friend and Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak. Woz may not look much like one of those nerdy kids tinkering in the Jobs family garage anymore, but the magic of what happened there was evident in the tears he wiped from his face.
Connecticut could use some of that magic now.
Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com