New Haven’s U.S. Congresswoman visited a local alternative energy shop Thursday to meet with entrepreneurs and green techies. Bruce Crowder, who works there, sent in this report:
“There is a real role for government to be a catalyst”, said U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro of New Haven Thursday at a small Connecticut technology firm. To a company that uses catalytic technology to drive everything from fuel cell systems to kitchen griddles, this was a light joke. But it also summarized her philosophy for letting government plant seeds for real economic growth in the technology sector.
DeLauro toured Precision Combustion, Inc (PCI) on Sackett Point Road in North Haven on Thursday, and afterward met with businesses leaders to explore what she can do to support technology development for future jobs. The Congresswoman insisted that investment in small technology businesses is particularly important since these jobs typically stay local: “We want to create jobs here and ship the products overseas.”
DeLauro walked through PCI’s test and production areas, and talked with the employees. The company is developing fuel reformers and other green technology for the U.S. military and Department of Energy, as well as U.S. and European customers. PCI’s fuel reformers allow fuels cells, which require hydrogen as a fuel, to use conventional fuels such as diesel, natural gas, home heating oil, biofuels or even specialized military fuels.
DeLauro commented about public/private partnerships – using federal R&D dollars to leverage private sector jobs in the green tech field. With 50% personnel growth since 2009, PCI is seen as a tiny counter-current against the recession. “Companies like PCI are creating potential for economic growth in difficult times”.
A group of local business representatives then joined DeLauro in discussing opportunities for the government to support tech sector job growth. DeLauro observed that small businesses have historically led the economy out of recessions and provide most new jobs in the economy.
“The SBIR program is terrific”, said Jonathan Gorham, president of Green Media Ventures , referring to the Small Business Investment Research program that provides a fraction of overall government R&D funding to small businesses to develop technology to meet the needs of government agencies, such as DOE and NASA. But the program is threatened by a proposed change that would open the program to subsidiaries of organizations that are currently considered large business.
Regarding the Patent Reform Act currently in congress, PCI president Kevin Burns said flatly: “This is a terrible bill. It will replace first-to-invent with first-to-file”, giving companies with large legal staffs and deep pockets a significant advantage over small companies and individual inventors, He implored DeLauro to support the current system, which protects the rights of the first inventor and the small business.
Jim Boyle, Director of The Yale Entrepreneurial Institute, stressed the importance of transitioning products from conceptualization and development into commercialization. His program at Yale helps entrepreneurial Yale students start their own companies, often with technology developed in Yale’s laboratories. He said that they had created 90 full time jobs using creative ideas from students. He stressed the need for mentoring young businesses as they get off the ground.
Matthew Nemerson, President of the CT Technology Council, recommended creating “community-wide incubators”—communities of entrepreneurs, academics and technology developers. He claimed that communication barriers between these institutions often inhibit progress, and yet if we encourage these interactions we will be encouraging high quality jobs creation. He encouraged the support of Obama’s “I6 Challenge” (http://www.eda.gov/i6), which awards funding to collaborative groups in an effort to lower these walls.
“Lincoln built the first transcontinental railroad during the Civil War,” DeLauro reminded. “Opponents say we shouldn’t be spending money in this economy. But if we do not make these investments, we will never grow the economy and get the debt down.”