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Where does Pa. rank for tech-based investments?

Everyone knows a good thing when they see it. That’s why Ben Franklin Technology Partners, created more than 35 years ago with broad bipartisan support, has become one of the most widely known and emulated state technology-based economic development programs in the nation.

Since its inception, Ben Franklin has invested in more than 4,500 technology-based companies and boosted the state economy by more than $25 billion, helping to generate 148,000 jobs through investments in client firms and spinoff companies in Pennsylvania. A recent in-depth economic analysis found that every dollar invested by the state into Ben Franklin generates $3.90 in additional state taxes.

But competition is fierce. Ben Franklin now faces increased competition in stimulating and attracting the best innovations and fast-growing startups with other states, including neighboring states, like Delaware, Maryland and Ohio.

According to data from the State Science and Technology Institute, Pennsylvania’s per capita spending of $1.37 was the second to lowest among 13 comparable states for technology-led economic development programs in 2019. The average state spending per capita in that study was more than four times our level, at $5.67, with some states spending as much as $16 to $18 per person. As an example, Maryland’s Governor Hogan recently announced a proposal that would increase technology-based economic development funding to nearly $54 million or $8.87 per Maryland resident.

By comparison, the state’s proposed 2019-20 General Fund budget would continue to fund Ben Franklin Technology Partners at the reduced level of $14 million. The appropriation is about half of the amount that the high-tech economic development engine has received over most of its history. Since 2007-08, funding for Ben Franklin has dropped approximately 50 percent, from $28 million to $14 million per year.

At stake here is the continued growth of vibrant technology sectors, led by Ben Franklin, as well as the future prosperity of the Pennsylvania economy. Innovation is happening all around us. States that harness that innovation and the subsequent startups associated with it are capturing a disproportionate share of economic growth.

Pennsylvania must invest appropriately in innovation not only to keep up with other states around us but also to excel and grow.