State Should Invest More in High-Tech Economy (Daily Press)

Jefferson Lab in the News

State Should Invest More in High-Tech Economy

Seen in its entirety, it can be easy to forget that the $24 billion to $25 billion the state of Virginia spends each year is actually made up of many smaller expenditures, any one of which can have an impact on an individual's life or a community's economy.

One example that the people of Newport News, the Peninsula and all of Hampton Roads should consider is a state appropriation that had been anticipated for the Thomas Jefferson National Accelerator Facility.

The nuclear physics lab is located in Newport News. Why should others care? If it's a national facility, shouldn't its money come from the federal government? Why should the state participate?

Because Jefferson Lab is one of the key elements in developing a high-tech nucleus in Hampton Roads. And that is an important regional and state goal because of its economic impact: Fostering a reputation and delivering results as a high-tech center can bring new private investment and higher-paying jobs that will result in more disposable income, leading to better sales and more work for service providers.

Jefferson Lab, NASA Langley Research Center and the Virginia Advanced Shipbuilding and Carrier Integration Center (now under construction on the Newport News waterfront), William and Mary and Old Dominion University collectively provide the critical mass of government, academic and business activity that should spin off and attract high-tech businesses. The combination has worked for the Research Triangle in North Carolina and we have it all right here.

Far from investing in the future, though, the car tax impasse between Gov. Gilmore and the General Assembly means that Virginia is actually losing ground as budget cuts delay or obstruct programs in higher education, among many other areas.

Most attention has been on breaking that impasse to restore those cuts, but the budget should actually do more. It should move Virginia forward and seize new opportunity, particularly in economic development.

Jefferson Lab is an example. The General Assembly and Gov. Gilmore should find a way to go back to Richmond and pass a budget that includes a $3 million appropriation for a building addition that would house $65 million worth of equipment that's already on site in Newport News. Without the building addition, the equipment is virtually unusable. Without the research, we'll never know what opportunities have been lost.

Yes, $3 million seems like a lot of money individually, but without it we're diminishing the value of an investment of $65 million and the opportunity for return on that investment.

Hampton Roads — and the Peninsula in particular — already contributes to Virginia's technology economy. But it has the opportunity to do more, to help keep the state on the ascendancy as a destination for high-tech investment and accomplishment. We should insist that our state government make this relatively small investment in the economic future.