Science needs to lead the way

By:  U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich

Today, we’re facing the greatest public health and economic crises in our lifetimes. Meeting the full scale of the challenges we face will require big thinking and big solutions. In short, this moment demands that we invest in innovation.

Our country has a long history of discovering and developing solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges. For decades, researchers and scientists in New Mexico have played a leading role in shaping major medical and technological advances. From innovations in clean energy and advanced materials manufacturing, to space satellites and national security, our national laboratories, military installations, research universities, and private companies have built an amazing track record of success.

Throughout my service in the United States Senate, I’ve made a point to uphold New Mexico’s leadership in research and innovation. I have grown investment in research and development because I know it is crucial to helping our state and our country thrive. Now is exactly the right time to build on that success and restore America’s status as a global leader in innovation and big thinking.

New Mexico knows firsthand the economic benefits that come from investing in research and development. In 2018, such federal investments in our state accounted for almost 60,000 jobs and billions of dollars of economic activity. Over one in every 20 jobs in New Mexico is supported by federal research and development funding — the highest percentage in the country. Importantly, positions in the research and development workforce are good-paying jobs — with careers that have wages that are 83 percent higher than the national average.

A new report released this week by Breakthrough Energy shows New Mexico’s experience is shared by other states that have made R&D a priority. The positive economic impact of federal R&D investment makes a strong case for where we should strategically focus taxpayer dollars as Congress considers the next major piece of relief legislation to help the country rebound from the pandemic.

Growing federal investment in research and development to just 1 percent of our GDP by 2030 would reap extraordinary economic benefits. The Breakthrough Energy report estimates that level of investment would result in 2.7 million annual jobs supported over 10 years, $3.7 trillion in value added to our economy, and improvements to our health, defense and energy industries.

We urgently need to invest in restoring our economy. Unemployment in New Mexico and across the country has hit levels that were previously unimaginable. Hundreds of thousands of New Mexicans are out of work, and tens of thousands of families in our state are at risk of eviction. Harnessing New Mexicans’ ingenuity might just be the key to faster economic relief today, while setting us up to address future challenges — from public health to national security to climate change.

None of us knows exactly how much longer the COVID-19 pandemic will last, how much heartbreaking loss lies ahead or how large of a hole we will need to climb out of when it is all over. But we do know from previous times of grave national emergency that federally funded science and innovation will be key in guiding us forward. It will be absolutely essential in scaling up and delivering effective COVID-19 treatments and vaccines as soon as they are available. Other new technologies and breakthroughs can help us create whole new industries that will spur much needed job growth across the country.

We can not only get Americans back to work — we can invest in the jobs of the future in emerging technological fields that will provide good-paying long-term careers. We can enable those who are suffering right now to get through this crisis in one piece and lay the foundations for their lasting economic stability and prosperity.

Our elected leaders and policymakers have the responsibility to help us come back from this crisis stronger than ever before. That means investing taxpayer dollars effectively, responsibly, and with a forward-looking mission. In other words, we need to let science lead the way.