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Higher federal funding for research and development key to prosperity

New Mexico has a rich history in fields related to science, technology, engineering and mathematics with three national research labs and three prestigious research universities, not to mention businesses in advanced manufacturing, aerospace, information technology, energy and natural resources and agriculture.

In fact, “the state is ranked first in non-industry investment in research and development and second in high-tech jobs, providing unparalleled capacity for research collaboration and technology commercialization,” according to the New Mexico Partnership, a coalition of private and public sector leaders dedicated to fostering economic development throughout the state.

The proliferation of jobs in the STEM economy drives opportunity and success for all Americans. A recent analysis by a nonpartisan group of science and engineering organizations found that two-thirds of all U.S. jobs are supported by STEM professions. Those jobs pay more on average than non-STEM careers and provide dependable earnings needed to sustain a middle-class way of life for many families.

In New Mexico, STEM supports 56% of jobs, 66% of economic output and 60% of the state’s GDP. Importantly, six of 10 STEM professionals in New Mexico do not hold a bachelor’s degree.

Despite our strong economic foundation, New Mexico’s poverty rate of 18.2% ranked 49th in the United States in 2019. Nearly one-quarter of children under 18 are in households with incomes below the poverty line, $25,926 for a family of four, and more than one-third of the state’s 2 million residents rely on government programs for their health insurance.

Occupations supported directly or indirectly by increased R&D funding will offer fulfilling career paths for New Mexicans just starting out after high school or college as well as those starting over later in life, which is why we are calling on Congress to recognize the value of science and engineering to our public health and economy and increase funding for scientific research to the equivalent of 2% of gross domestic product by 2035. That is a modest amount over time to maintain America’s – and New Mexico’s – innovative edge in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.

Indeed, our innovation leadership is at risk. Without robust and predictable R&D funding, the nation’s standing as a global scientific and engineering leader is beginning to slip. At the height of the space race in the 1960s, we spent nearly 2% of GDP on federally funded R&D. However, that spending decreased over time to 0.6% of GDP in 2019 — the lowest level of federal research spending in more than 60 years.

From 1995 through 2018, Chinese R&D investment from public and private sources increased by more than 15% a year on average. Smaller economies like South Korea, Japan and Germany are also investing more in science and engineering, making them R&D-intensive economies.

Here in New Mexico, R&D funding allows colleges and universities to commercialize patents that address social issues like water purification, seed genetics for drought-resistant crops and advancements in transportation infrastructure design to support commerce networks well into the future. U.S. patent growth allows us to keep strong jobs in the state and develop future opportunities for our children, our next generation of innovators.

In addition, R&D spending is necessary to support innovation through private-sector entrepreneurship, which will be critical to getting start-ups – think Microsoft, which was founded in Albuquerque in 1975 – off the ground and lifting New Mexicans out of poverty. We must do all we can to attract risk capital, typically focused on the coasts, to New Mexico.

Congress must commit itself to a return to American leadership in science and engineering by restoring federal research investments to historic levels, as President Joseph R. Biden has pledged to do.

Our U.S. senators, Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján, can lead in the effort from their respective positions on the Appropriations and Budget committees. Without their leadership, our global competitors will continue to close the innovation gap.




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