Through Council on Competitiveness, Emory takes role in increasing American innovation

By Susan M. Carini | Emory Report | May 20, 2021

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For the past several years, Emory has engaged in a nonpartisan effort, with a diverse set of leaders representing major economic sectors, to enhance our nation’s competitiveness and drive inclusive prosperity for all Americans.

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Since 2018, Emory leaders have worked closely with the Council on Competitiveness, composed of industry CEOs, university presidents and national lab directors. The council has a long history of working to identify and advocate for recommendations that promote U.S. innovation capacity and capability.

C. Michael Cassidy, director of the Emory Biomedical Catalyst, who was Georgia Research Alliance (GRA) president and CEO before joining the university in 2018, is a council advisor. In his role at Emory, Cassidy leads efforts to enhance innovation, entrepreneurship and development of intellectual property, as well as identifying and developing areas of frontier research. Cassidy has been deeply involved with the council across two decades and was named a senior fellow when he retired from the GRA. 

“By providing real-world perspective to Washington policymakers, the council’s private-sector network impacts decision making across a spectrum of key issues, including the cutting edge of science and technology, the democratization of innovation, resiliency and the future of education and work, as well as the shift from energy weakness to strength to support U.S. manufacturing,” Cassidy says.

Not long after his arrival in August 2020, Emory President Gregory L. Fenves agreed to be a commissioner on the council and to renew the university’s membership. Joining him in representing Georgia are the presidents of Georgia State University and the University of Georgia.

“I am grateful to Mike Cassidy and other Emory leaders for building a strong relationship with the Council on Competitiveness,” says Fenves. “Research universities like Emory are at the heart of the American innovation ecosystem. Our faculty and researchers make breakthroughs across a wide range of fields while helping to train the entrepreneurial workforce of the future, which supports the economic vitality, quality of life and health of the nation.”

The council’s evolution

The Council on Competitiveness traces its roots to 1986 and the Reagan-era Commission on Industrial Competitiveness, chaired by Hewlett-Packard CEO John Young. When that commission ended its work, Young created the private-sector Council on Competitiveness.

A high-water mark for the council was the 2004 report “Innovate America: Thriving in a World of Challenge and Change.” Three years later, President George W. Bush signed the America Competes Act — legislation that in part arose from the “Innovate America” report and the work of the council’s National Innovation Initiative. The act has had broad-ranging impact on scientific and technological advancement in the U.S., particularly in STEM education and research.

The 10x push

The council’s flagship effort currently is the National Commission on Innovation and Competitiveness Frontiers, a multiyear effort begun in 2019 to focus on the challenges and opportunities associated with American innovation and competitiveness. Among the commission’s goals for the next decade are to provide government leaders a policy-recommendation roadmap; accelerate annual productivity growth and push U.S. living standards to the top of global rankings; and address, propose and potentially launch private, public and public-private solutions to specific national and global challenges. 

Alongside Cassidy are five other Emory faculty and staff members, who serve on the following working groups or committees:

  • Developing and Deploying at-Scale Disruptive Technologies — Cassidy co-chairs this group, which includes Carolyn Meltzer, William P. Timmie professor and chair, Department of Radiology, School of Medicine, and executive associate dean of Faculty Academic Advancement, Leadership and Inclusion, School of Medicine
  • Exploring the Future of Sustainable Production and Consumption — Ciannat Howett, associate vice president, Resilience, Sustainability and Economic Inclusion; and Paul Root Wolpe, director, Emory Center for Ethics, and Raymond F. Schinzai Distinguished Research Chair in Jewish Bioethics
  • Optimizing the Environment for the National Innovation System — Rob Kazanjian, Asa Griggs Candler chair and professor in organization and management, Goizueta Business School, as well as academic director of the Roberto C. Goizueta Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
  • Outreach and Engagement Committee — Cameron Taylor, vice president, Government and Community Affairs

For Howett, working with the National Commission on Innovation and Competitiveness Frontiers has brought with it the rare opportunity to work alongside other national leaders in sustainability from the corporate sector, national labs, health care, governmental agencies and academia. 

“It has been an honor and a pleasure to craft recommendations for the administration and Congress to boost our country’s innovation in green chemistry, renewable energy, alternatives to plastics and other new materials, policies, processes and devices across a range of sectors that reduce consumption of limited resources and the impact on our global community,” she says.

Among key issues the working groups have identified are the needs for the U.S. to strengthen its resiliency in the face of COVID-19; for universities to amplify a culture of technology transfer, commercialization and industry engagement; and for the U.S. to secure its capabilities in strategic/critical technologies.

Kazanjian describes the process of serving on the National Innovation System working group as “both challenging and rewarding to work with leading academics and business executives to address the most critical impediments to innovation at the firm, industry and global levels, and then to propose responsive national policies. The focus throughout has been to put forward pragmatic approaches that would foster increased competitiveness over the long term.”

In December 2020, the commission released “Competing in the Next Economy: The New Age of Innovation,” a call to action for local, state and national policymakers to join the private sector in optimizing the U.S. for a new and challenging innovation reality.

According to Taylor, policymakers depend on the advice and guidance of experts to further national objectives. “The Council on Competitiveness plays a central role in convening thought leaders and ensuring that they emerge with the type of groundbreaking policy recommendations seen in ‘Competing in the Next Economy,’” Taylor says.

She cites three recommendations in the report that are reflected in Biden’s infrastructure plan — namely, supporting a return of federal research-and-development investment to 2% of gross domestic product; developing a public-private, nonprofit American Innovation Investment Fund at the $100 billion level; and investing at least 2% of infrastructure stimulus on innovation infrastructure. Additionally, she notes, policymakers on both sides of the aisle appreciate the council’s expertise and focus related to pro-growth economic policies.

“Emory can contribute so much to this conversation,” says Cassidy, “especially in the areas of sustainability and resiliency; diversity, equity and inclusion; and disruptive technologies. It is a privilege to be involved in helping government and private-sector leaders strengthen the nation’s innovation capabilities and drive long-term productivity growth and inclusive prosperity.”