The newly established Alabama Innovation Commission, known as Innovate Alabama, has sought policy recommendations from a group of faculty at Stanford University, including representatives from Stanford Law School and the Stanford Graduate School of Business. The goal of the Alabama Innovation Commission is to identify and present to policymakers policies that will promote innovation, entrepreneurship, economic development, and high-skilled jobs in the state. In this policy lab, students will work on papers whose results will be incorporated with attribution into the recommendations provided to the Commission and the Governor. Where possible, projects will be conducted in partnership with students at the major research universities in Alabama. Available topics for projects include building on the state’s existing competencies in medical research and space and defense technology; assessing financial incentives for attracting businesses; deploying broadband-based education; fostering the role of universities in economic development; and drawing high-skilled workers through opportunities for outdoor recreation.
Students admitted to the lab will work on one of the following projects (to be determined according to the priorities of the client):
1.) Business Incentives and Prosperity. High profile competitions for the headquarters of large corporations often lead states to offer large incentive packages. States that land the deal are often perceived as the winners. Some recruitment initiatives indeed bring substantial local economic benefits, yet recent research has called into question many commonly-held beliefs about state incentives. Such incentives often may have costs that exceed benefits, and there is some question even as to whether they increase local economic activity at the margin in most cases. This project will evaluate Alabama’s existing incentives for attracting businesses and make recommendations based on the successes and failures of recent incentive programs around the country. The project will weigh the potential for traditional recruitment tactics such as tax incentives and subsidized industrial sites against alternatives such as infrastructure development, skills development programs, and customized business services. (S. Haber and J. Rauh)
2.) Deploying Broadband-Based Education. The future of Alabama rests on the talent and knowledge of its citizens so the success of K-12 public education must be a potent driver of human capital development. The work of the Stanford-AL team will look at the current and potential for deploying broadband-based education throughout the state to augment the current capacities of K-12 educators to deliver high quality instruction, especially in the priority areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) which ties in closely to economic development plans for the state. (M. Raymond)
3.) Fostering the Role of Universities. It is widely recognized that universities are key to the development of innovative economic activity at the state and local level. The most productive local innovation economies in the US have emerged in locations such as Silicon Valley, North Carolina’s Research Triangle, and the Boston area, powered by research that has emerged from local universities. Success stories of the impact of universities on the innovative ecosystem also abound in smaller markets in recent decades. This project will aim to make specific, concrete recommendations for state government policy to build on the strength of Alabama’s universities to grow Alabama’s technology and innovation economy. (R. Banks and J. Rauh)
4.) The Outdoor Recreation Lab. Persuading someone to move thousands of miles to a new home, a new community, and a new state is not an event; it is a process. It often starts with a short visit that plants a seed in a person’s mind. Those crucial, initial, short visits often occur because of tourism; and when it comes to people who have invested in human capital that is specific to high technology industries, that tourism tends to be focused on outdoor recreation. Outdoor recreation tourism is not, however, simply a way to draw high-skilled workers into a state; it is also a way to share the economic rents generated by high tech industries with rural areas. It is the working hypothesis of the Outdoor Recreation Lab that Alabama’s Cumberland Plateau has necessary environmental characteristics to be a draw for high tech workers and entrepreneurs—and thus be an important part of building and sustaining a more innovative Alabama economy—but that potential has not been fully developed. The purpose of the Outdoor Recreation Lab is to assess the hypothesis that the Cumberland Plateau is an underdeveloped resource for the State of Alabama. Specifically, the lab will assess its natural endowments as compared to its physical and business infrastructure. An important component of this assessment is the extent of public lands, the interpretation of “public trust” in Alabama law regarding access to navigable rivers and streams, and the number and identity of agencies that would have to be coordinated to provide access to those lands and waterways. It will also learn about the attempts—both successful and not—by other states to leverage natural endowments to generate in-migration by tech workers and entrepreneurs. (S. Haber)
Additional sub-projects if students are interested may include deep dives into how Alabama can build on existing competencies in Medical Research and in Space/Defense technology to foster the further development of its economy and technology center.
The lab seeks students from the law and business schools, the graduate MS&E program, and other graduate students with a background in entrepreneurship and/or local governance. Students who have ties to Alabama are especially invited to apply. GSB students should sign up directly through GSBGEN 587. SLS students should apply through the SLS application portal at https://registrar.law.stanford.edu/.