Thursday, July 9, 2015

Governor makes reference to grandiose plans, CJ chuckles

From this week's ACS Industry Insights newsletter, a link to a Xconomy post about the loss of continued Washington state R&D funding for its life science ambitions:
The defunding of the Life Sciences Discovery Fund (LSDF) combined with the failure to renew a long-standing research and development tax credit was a disappointment—and, some say privately, a shock—to the state’s biotech industry, particularly at a time when others in the Northwest, including Montana and Oregon, are committing state funds to life sciences research.... 
...Some $11 million in funding for the LSDF was siphoned to the state general fund as part of the $38.2 billion, two-year state operating budget signed late Tuesday by Inslee (pictured above at a WBBA event in 2014), narrowly averting a government shutdown. Lawmakers enacted historic tuition cuts at public universities and channeled hundreds of millions of dollars to teachers and schools in an attempt to fulfill the state constitution’s mandate to adequately fund education....
 And there was this concluding statement in the article:
...Inslee’s spokeswoman added, “While the Legislature did not produce a budget that includes LSDF or R&D incentives, Governor Inslee remains committed to our state’s goal of becoming the global leader in life science innovation and health delivery and will continue to work hard to realize this vision for our state.”
Does anyone buy this stuff? What would it take for Washington (i.e. Seattle) to become a "global leader in life science innovation"? A 11.5 earthquake in the Bay Area that forces Stanford, UC-Berkeley and UCSF to relocate to Seattle? 20X the current rather substantial federal life sciences R&D funding that Washington gets?

(I should note here that Washington is not the only state to have these ambitions...) 

33 comments:

  1. This...

    http://media.washtimes.com.s3.amazonaws.com/media/image/2014/09/30/c7694a3a764f3726610f6a706700990a.jpg

    No effect on Stanford, though. Also, note the "Dr. Evil" quotation marks.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yah, when pigs fly. Now that would be a great genetics project for the biotech hub that is Seattle. Where do these pols get these ideas?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Where do these pols get these ideas?"

      From friends with deep pockets.

      Delete
    2. No, they get them from overpaid economists, public policy wonks and other breeds of social science statisticians. "Hey, if you do X you'll get Y and Z.*" Then they write books about it with lots of pretty pictures and colorful graphs, give them mildly enigmatic or fear-provoking titles (e.g. "The Vanishing of the Embedded Sustainability Class") and then consult for 5-7 years afterwards to governments who haven't got a hope in hell of implementing the schemes in question, and then retire on the proceeds to a more socialist-leaning country. N.B. DOES NOT WORK IF you are an MIT economist who persists in insulting the intelligence of the very people who are handing out bag money to sort out and implement policy that s/he had a hand in drafting.

      * In a sub-footnote in a high-numbered appendix, there will be a note to the effect that the actual regression analysis will have an R-squared value (not even adjusted R-squared) of not more than 0.05, "showing a substantial relationship between the (variables)" (their words, not mine). On such stuff is American public policy built (including that study that claimed to find five jobs were 'created' for every H-1B visa holder, that is still quoted on occasion).

      Delete
  3. Somewhat more seriously, I'd speculate that one thing that seems to be common to leading areas in life science innovation, is a heterogeneous educational institution landscape - a mix of public and private institutions within a small geographical area, with different student foci but also significant aggregate STEM resources. This is true of RTP, San Francisco, and Boston. Areas that are plugging for "life science innovation" leader status that only have a single large public university (or system, or which are dominated by the same) generally have not been as competitive in this arena.

    Admittedly, just one ingredient among several, but it bodes well for Portland-Corvallis, Chicago, northern Colorado (Golden-Denver-Boulder-Ft. Collins), Atlanta-Athens, and likely a few other locations.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. So this is a great comment and to the point. I disagree with the "bodes well", but hey, maybe I'm wrong.

      Delete
    2. I would imagine that life-science biotech development mostly comes from ideas of university faculty and the more of these schools you have in one location (like 3 schools for RTP) then you are more likely to get start-up's and companies. Then if the companies flop some of the employees may have their own ideas and make a company in the same location.

      Delete
    3. I'd love for Colorado to be on that list, but I don't think we're ever going to approach San Fran Boston. We need another good university in there to reach critical mass. I'm a CU alum and I'm not going to pretend we match up with Cal or Stanford.

      Delete
    4. @NMH - I think that institutional diversity also plays a role, rather than just a bunch of schools.

      @thewonkychemist - I wouldn't give up just yet, I suspect UCal is headed down the tubes (see the opening post for one cogent reason why) and CA is currently destroying its own economy, not to mention that costs there are extremely high. Besides, in CO you don't just have CU- you've also got CSM and UC-Boulder.

      Delete
  4. Some kind of atmospheric project that disperses the clouds for good?

    ReplyDelete
  5. To make Seattle a real biotech hub, yes, probably >$11 to make even a noticeable dent.

    Now if the government were willing to spend hundreds of millions, as it did to make the Seahawks a nice new stadium, they may actually have some effect (though unlikely to displace SF/MA). Governments lime paying hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to build baseball and football stadia, maybe combine the two? A super nice biotech park most of the year, and a football park on 20 Sundays? Maybe even naming rights? The San Diego Organicers?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. LOL, great point, are we really going to pretend that $11M/year is going to make that much of a difference? How many assistant professor startup packages is that, anyway?

      Delete
    2. "How many assistant professor startup packages is that, anyway?"

      Or you could measure the career of an assistant professor in terms of how many careers of his/her "co-workers" have been either broken or facilitated for him/her to achieve tenure.

      My understanding is that currently ca. 50% of all those with graduate degrees in either Chemistry or Biology end up being forced to do something else entirely different in order to make ends meet.

      Delete
    3. The day I met a microbiology graduate working the register at McDonalds I realized this country is in serious sh*t.

      Delete
  6. Lots of tax breaks. So companies can move there. Then in 5-10 years close down their sites.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I find it amusing how so few people seem to grasp that shuffling jobs around by shoveling tax breaks out so that McWalmart will locate on the opposite side of a line on a map is not "job creation" but stupid, negative-sum racing to the bottom.

      Delete
    2. There is a current analogy to the farce of temporary tax breaks: Greece is apparently one of the largest registrants of merchant vessels in the world. In order to achieve this, they have consistently looked the other way when it came time for the associated companies to pay taxes. According to my friends and colleagues in Switzerland, Greeks have been hiding a fair amount of euros there.

      So it might be advisable to think twice before waving a magic wand to make X-city the next SF or Boston. Especially if your business model would be based on stealing business from either of those two locations. Quoting Monty Python, "and now for something completely different". What's it going to be?

      Delete
    3. I would agree that poaching existing businesses to relocate is not 'job creation,' - at least not directly. I also find it amusing how so many people seem to think that a society can tax itself into prosperity, how many people do not understand the necessarily inverse relation between economic activity and taxation, and how so many people continue to believe that higher taxes necessarily produce higher revenues.

      Delete
    4. The relationship between taxation and prosperity is more complicated than Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader.....or Republican vs. Democrat. For example, Silicon Valley prospers, in spite of the relatively high rate of taxation in CA.

      I have no problem with paying taxes, as long as we get something back for it, besides a B-2 bomber.

      Delete
    5. "I have no problem with paying taxes, as long as we get something back for it..." Aye, there's the rub.

      I guess if I weren't persuaded that so many tax dollars go to fund things like "the effects of backmasked Japanese on rats," special interest group "sue-and-settle" tactics against the Dept. of the Interior, jello wrestling in Antarctica, new VA office furniture, obviously dysfunctional government employees and other similarly asinine uses, then I might be less dismissive.

      Delete
    6. Hi 12:05 PM,

      It is possible that the projects which you are referring to are a waste of time and money. Or maybe not. It all depends on their context. It is a favorite tactic of those on the far right and the far left to reach a preordained conclusion based on a 5-second analysis of a situation.

      Delete
    7. If you really think these are potentially valid uses of time and money, then I can see how they are allowed to happen.

      Delete
    8. @Anonymous July 12 11AM--Some time ago, I spent a few years working at a VA hospital that was about 40 years old. They had some furniture that was original to the building; that stuff was so solid it could have doubled as civil defense air raid shelters. Unfortunately, there was a bunch of furniture that was maybe 10-20 years old--and it fell apart as you watched. So yeah, that VAMC could have used a few dollars for furniture.

      Exactly how much money has gone to the examples you cite, and when?

      Delete
    9. The VA office furniture example was in reference to a recent scandal involving misuse of funds at VA centers by administration employees while veteran care (ostensibly the raison d'etre for these facilites) declined. Between FY 2010 and 2014 the VA is reported to have spent $489 million on office furniture in 15,010 contracts, while covering up delays in treatments with falsified waiting lists - sometimes for months - during which patients died.

      Jello wrestling was undertaken by NSF employees at McMurdo Station 'in their spare time.' The organizer was dismissed after this became widely public. Apparently there were multiple events and some other activities undertaken. I doubt a cost was ever assessed. The NSF spends $451 million annually on research efforts in the Antarctic and Arctic - it seems likely this involved a small fraction of that funding (in labor, cleaning, and food costs).

      "The effects of backmasked Japanese on rats" study was funded by a James S. McDonnell Foundation grant, a Catalan government research grant, and a Spanish Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport fellowship. Exact amounts are not known. Findings were published in the Journal for Experimental Psychology: Animal Behavior Processes (2005) 31:1 95-100. However, the study was also cited in a Telegraph article as an 'Ig Nobel' award winner.

      The aggregate costs of "obviously dysfunctional government employees" are anybody's guess. Here are some examples:

      http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2731967/EPA-reveals-toxic-waste-problem-mystery-employee-smears-human-waste-menstrual-blood-walls-Denver-office-clogs-toilets-urinates-floor.html

      Costs have already included ongoing clean up of biohazard waste, lost employee productivity, costs of consultation, DHS involvement, plus employee turnover and early retirements.

      http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/mar/20/feds-defy-warnings-over-porn-surfing/?page=all

      ...in fact, looking up "government porn surfing" reveals years of employees across many agencies (FCC, SEC, NSF, EPA, Treasury, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office) wasting taxpayer dollars.

      The elephant in the room is 'sue-and-settle,' a process by which a "environmental" lobbying group (e.g. Sierra Club or Natural Resources Defense Council) sues an agency like the EPA. The EPA, not necessarily opposed to the aims of the lawsuit and frequently collusive, settles, and issues new regulations *outside the standard regulatory process allowing for inter-agency consultation and public review.* The costs fall on states and other regulated entities. A US Chamber of Commerce report cites $488 billion in new costs from regulatory requirements from 2009-2012 alone.

      Delete
    10. I have posted a somewhat lengthier reply than I care to repeat, which showed up and then vanished. CJ, any chance of getting it back?

      Delete
    11. Thanks, CJ.

      Delete
    12. NP, anon. Purely the spam filter.

      Delete
    13. On the VA "wait list" scandal:

      http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/jul/14/one-third-of-veterans-in-backlog-for-va-health-car/

      I guess if you just put 'em all on a death list - I mean, wait list, then the savings can go for some new office furniture. Brought to you by the administration that cares.

      Delete
  7. I think pretty much every place tries to create the impression of being the next big tech hub. I recall Champaign-Urbana trying to market itself as the "silicon prairie" when I was in grad school because they had a couple of tech startups - probably no different than any other town with a big university, and unlikely to challenge SF or Boston anytime soon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When I lived there, the buzzword of the moment was "micro-urban."

      Delete
    2. Nah... they had Netscape, way back when. That's more than most cities ever get.

      Delete
  8. Look at Ireland at the moment where the docklands is full of tech companies and the government/IDA have nickmaned it Sillicon Docks to attract more companies. Pity the majority of jobs are in marketing and sales support functions. This is based on Google and Facebook. There some companies here doing some tech work but mostly small scale. While Ireland also has a large Pharma ans growing biological sector, it is maninly manufacturing. Very little research done no matter what spin our government put on it

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Coinnigh leanúint is tuar ceatha, tá pota óir ag an deireadh.

      Delete