Oregon governor uses capital trip to try for some nano capital

March 11, 2004 — When the National Governors Association met in Washington, D.C., in late February, Oregon Gov. Theodore R. Kulongoski took the opportunity to lobby federal officials for some nanotech money.

State governors had gathered to talk about issues relating to highway funding, welfare reform, Medicaid and education. But Kulongoski also had his own agenda: a federal nanotechnology center.

Oregonians are hoping to capitalize on their senator’s sponsorship of nanotech legislation by snagging federal funds that will eventually help them launch more startup companies.

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Oregon’s wish list had already been summarized in a Feb. 18 letter the governor wrote to Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., outlining the state’s objectives relating to ongoing nanotech research projects and the nanotech center.

A week later, Oregon’s other senator and representatives repeated the request in their own letter to the president.

The 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act (PDF, 56.1 KB) promises $3.7 billion for nanotech research over four years, but there is no language allocating how much money each new nanotech center would get.

“Sen. Wyden is focused on making the case for Oregon,” said Chris Fitzgerald, a spokesman for Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., a key sponsor of the nanotech bill signed in late 2003.

“Look at states that already have sizeable biotech industries and the economic anchor those provide for cities and towns,” he said. “Just having those kinds of economic engines in your city or state has a sizeable impact on the surrounding economy,” he said

Economist Bill Conerly, of Conerly Consulting in Portland, Ore., looks at the direct impact the federal dollars would have on the local economy.

“They’ll be very small nano centers,” he said. “I think it will not have a noticeable effect on the Oregon economy,” even if Oregon wins federal dollars to match money the state legislature has already allocated for the center.

“In fact they’ll be very lucky to get $21 million in benefit out of the $21 million they’re putting into it,” he said. “Nanotech has a lot of potential, but there is very low potential in government-funded research. What will succeed in nanotech is likely to be privately funded.”

The institute would put a roof over work currently going on at Oregon State, University of Oregon and Portland State University, as well as projects jointly undertaken by Battelle, which manages the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Kulongoski’s letter said Oregon’s small tech priorities are twofold:

  • First, funding for a center under the nanotech act, which “includes a suggestion that funding should include a nano-micro element, the very niche to which Oregon lays claim.”
  • Second, he requested follow-on funding through the Defense appropriations bill for two current projects that link nanotechnology with microscale systems and are the first projects to be associated with ONAMI.

The state also hopes to capture some $5 million from the U.S. Army to develop miniature tactical energy systems, and another $5 million from the U.S. Air Force to develop nanomaterials.


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