American innovation
A General Electric Global Research facility opened in Oklahoma City opened in October 2016. (Archiebald Browne)

As executive director of the State Chamber Research Foundation, I’ve been fortunate to witness our state’s scientific professionals and researchers make many remarkable discoveries and pioneer groundbreaking projects.

Because it can take years — and sometimes even decades — of work as a hypothesis moves from the experimental stage to a place where major discoveries are achieved, it’s sometimes hard to see the connection between scientific research and the innovations our society relies on every day: from our cell phones, to the cars we drive to work, to the packaging on the food we buy at the grocery store, and everything in between.

America has historically been able to lead the world in scientific innovation thanks in large part to our country’s unique partnership amongst the federal government, universities, and private industry.

However, we cannot rest on our laurels. A new report released by the Task Force on American Innovation (TFAI), a non-partisan alliance of leading American companies and business associations, research university associations, and scientific societies, reveals that America’s competitive edge is weakening. Why? Because China and other countries are rapidly increasing investments in research and workforce development in order to assume positions of global leadership in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, aerospace, advanced manufacturing, and the next generation of telecommunications networks.

In fact, according to the TFAI report, there are areas where China and other countries have already surpassed the U.S., including the advancement of 5G technology, number of nanotechnology-related patents, the global share of scientific research publications, control over the largest number of the fastest supercomputers, and estimated number of researchers.

The issue of America’s leadership and competitiveness with countries like China also resonates with voters. According to a recent national bipartisan poll, 84 percent of voters say it’s important that the United States stay ahead of China as a world leader in scientific and technology research, while 86 percent of voters would support a proposal for the federal government to increase funding for scientific and technology research each year over the next ten years.

Scientific research in our state produces critical knowledge that spurs innovation, drives economic growth, enhances national security, and increases global influence. I hope that Oklahoma’s representatives in Congress will heed the warnings laid out in the TFAI report and advocate for increased federal funding for scientific and technology research so that future generations are able to continue to lead the world in global innovation and discovery.

Jennifer Lepard is the executive director of the State Chamber of Oklahoma Research Foundation. Prior to that, she worked as a legislative analyst for the Oklahoma Senate, at a state agency and as vice president of government affairs for the State Chamber of Oklahoma. She also serves as adjunct faculty at the University of Oklahoma.