President Donald Trump’s $1 trillion plan to repair the nation’s dilapidated roads, antiquated bridges and shabby railways through an infrastructure overhaul is a worthy goal. But to fully boost the economy, strengthen our competitiveness and increase job growth, Trump’s plan should include our nation’s scientific infrastructure. I urge U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen of Minnesota’s Third Congressional District — who is in a position of influence on this because of his service on the Joint Economic Committee — to take the necessary steps to ensure that the president includes science in his infrastructure plan.
Americans rely on our country’s scientific infrastructure — national labs, university research facilities and cutting-edge instrumentation — for the breakthroughs and discoveries that improve our lives, fuel our economy and help protect our country.
Here in Minnesota, our economy thrives on innovation driven by a history of a strong educational system and investments in our scientific infrastructure that trains tomorrow’s engineers and scientists and ensures that they carry out their work using state-of-the-art equipment. Our investments in education and research led our state to become the home of companies such as Medtronic, 3M, Ecolab, St. Jude Medical and ADC Telecommunications. Moreover, our state houses scores of other high-tech industries with significant research and development operations. But in order to stay competitive in today’s and tomorrow’s economies, we must continue to invest in education and scientific infrastructure. I know from my own experience how important such investments are.
I worked at Seagate Technology’s recording head operations in Bloomington for 12 years. During that time, Seagate, which makes disk drives for data storage, became an industry-leading organization. This accomplishment was possible because of the large investments Seagate made in research and development. And such a feat would have been impossible without access to well-trained engineers and technicians, many of whom were recruited from the University of Minnesota, where they obtained advanced degrees in engineering or science.
Undoubtedly, roads, bridges and tunnels are important to our nation’s economy, but we should not forget that scientific infrastructure has a critical role to play, too. It is fundamental to our economy and security. But the disrepair of that scientific infrastructure is jeopardizing our nation’s competitive advantage.
With our counterparts in Europe and Asia ramping up their investments in research and development, the U.S. must upgrade its science infrastructure — the essential plank that directly supports more than 17 million U.S. jobs.
Fortunately, we can get back on track. Our federal science agencies — including the Department of Energy, NASA, the National Institute of Standards and Technology and the National Science Foundation — have shovel-ready plans and a ready workforce. But we must make sure that a $1 trillion infrastructure initiative doesn’t waste taxpayers’ dollars. To ensure that they are spent wisely, two principles should guide the investment:
• Public value: Research infrastructure projects must provide a broadly shared benefit.
• Essentiality: Research infrastructure projects must be central to the mission of the sponsoring agency and fit within its envelope of activities and operations.
Investing in our scientific infrastructure would immediately revitalize our economy, creating jobs across the construction and manufacturing sectors. Those same investments would also lay the groundwork for new discoveries and innovations, yielding dividends for decades to come.
We must restore our standing as a global technology leader in the world. Paulsen, my representative, can help make that happen. Our nation’s standing as a global technology leader depends on it.
Olle Heinonen, of Eden Prairie, is a materials scientist.