US economic growth is poised to outpace average world economic growth for the first time since 1999, and companies from across the globe are choosing to invest in the country. But, can the US generate new productivity? Executives at think tank, Brookings Institute in Washington, DC, question this, given growing concern over US research and development (R&D) growth.

In early June 2015, the US House of Representatives passed a controversial rewrite of the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act of 2007 (or America COMPETES Act) that would reprioritise and cut federal research funding. “These worrisome trends suggest it might be time to revisit the underpinnings of the nation’s innovation system,” said Mark Muro, a senior fellow and policy director at the Metropolitan Policy Programme at Brookings. “The overall scale of the US research and development effort is simply not big enough,” he added.

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The National Science Foundation (NSF) reports that total US R&D investment has plateaued as a share of the economy, stabilising at about 2.8% of gross domestic product in 2012. While that level is close to historical highs, NSF reports that other countries have pushed past the US. 

Consequently, a number of experts are calling for 'a smarter game plan' to re-energise the country's R&D sector. Such a plan might include strategies to maintain and even expand federal investment by giving individual states a way to benefit more directly from the financial rewards of federal R&D risk taking.

Some states and metropolitan areas have already stepped up. Examples include New York, which, through its Applied Sciences NYC programme, encouraged the development of a $2bn science and engineering campus on New York City's Roosevelt Island by Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. In Ohio, the $2.3bn Ohio Third Frontier Initiative provides funding to local technology-based companies, universities, non-profit research institutions and others to encourage the creation of new technology-based products, companies, industries and jobs. While in Indiana, a $300m initiative – Indiana Biosciences Research Institute – is being developed with fundings from local biosciences corporations Eli Lilly and Roche Diagnostics, the state of Indiana, local life sciences investment promotion agency BioCrossroads, as well as non-profit donors.