[From CASE Reports, Vol. 13,2 , 1998)

CASE Town Meeting Explores Role of Knowledge in State's Economic Future

How do we harness the state's human capital to promote progress in the new millennium?

That was the provocative theme of CASE's 1998 forum, which was held June 3 in the Science Center at Wesleyan University in Middletown.

The program opened with welcoming remarks from Wesleyan President Douglas Bennet and CASE President Anthony DeMaria. George Bugliarello, chancellor of Polytechnic University in New York, delivered the keynote speech, which was followed by a "town meeting" between the audience and a panel of business, educational and political leaders. The seven-member panel featured Wallace Barnes, chairman of the Connecticut Employment and Training Commission (CETC); Charlotte Denenberg, vice president of Network Technology and chief technology officer at Southern New England Telephone; Andrew DeRocco, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Higher Education; Claire Gaudiani, president of Connecticut College; John Olsen, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO; Harry Penner, president and CEO of Neurogen Incorporated; and Paul Pescatello, special counsel to the governor for economic and community development. Allan Bromley, Sterling Professor of the Sciences and dean of engineering at Yale University, moderated the discussion, while Thomas Malone, executive scientist at CASE, summed up its key points.

Knowledge as Power

Several years ago, Chancellor Bugliarello presented a paper at the National Academy of Sciences in which he observed that "knowledge will become the organizing principle for society in the 21st century."

He reiterated that message in his keynote address, calling knowledge the new "leitmotiv" for our times. We have evolved, Bugliarello noted, from a "materials-based" society to an energy society and now, to the information age.

What is knowledge? Bugliarello defines it as information (the removal of uncertainty), plus awareness, insight and discernment. At present, "knowledge development" is centered in a handful of free, industrialized nations-the United States, France, Germany and Japan. Conversely, countries such as China, India, Russia and Iran are "information disenfranchised." We must level this imbalance, he says, because information is a prime source of wealth and power: to achieve equality, we must understand how knowledge is generated, transmitted and used.

Telecommunications: A Crucial Link

Telecommunications is a critical part of the picture. It allows us to disseminate information with speed, in volume, and among diverse populations in far-flung locations. In turn, this carries numerous political and economic ramifications, from fostering jobs to fostering crime.

New knowledge structures have created another phenomenon-industrial parks. Bugliarello helped his school and the borough of Brooklyn co-found Metrotech, a five-acre complex of financial and telecommunications businesses. Today, Metrotech houses branches of Bear Sterns, Nynex, Chase Manhattan and Marriott; employs 20,000 people; and represents investments worth $1.4 billion.

The "knowledge explosion" also has spawned new forces and raised new questions. Cities, states and regions must draft strategies to address these questions, which span issues such as traditional power versus virtual power, traditional morality versus global morality, centers of knowledge versus diffused knowledge, and human intelligence versus artificial intelligence. There also are many facets of knowledge that are unresolved or problematic. We lack a clear comprehension of its infrastructure, use too little of the information we gather, and have inadequate mechanisms for receiving data, according to Bugliarello.

Integrating knowledge is a primary concern as well. How, for instance, do we merge what we learn from books and the Internet? Further, how do we differentiate knowledge from information? We're "drowning" in the latter, says Bugliarello, and "need filters and certifications" to keep our heads above water. Universities are one answer: "They have a responsibility to separate good information from bad," he asserts.

Access to information is "an essential human right," says Bugliarello, and schools like the University of Phoenix, a corporate-owned institution, can aid in its delivery. Courses, which are offered at fixed costs, are taught "over the air," filling an important niche that traditional schools "must recognize."

All told, knowledge must be shared, and shared in a truly collaborative way, without regard for "territorial domain." This should be part of Connecticut's role, as it attempts to win and retain business in the coming years, affirms Bugliarello.

Cultivating Human Capital

Harnessing knowledge, then applying it wisely, poses great challenges and opportunities. In the town meeting portion of the program, the issues surrounding these challenges and opportunities were probed in a lively, 90-minute debate.

Dr. Bromley of Yale launched the discussion with two points. First, since the copyright (software and entertainment) and chemical industries constitute 52% of America's exports, Connecticut must promote hi-tech industries if it expects to compete economically. Second, for companies to succeed in the state, given "its high labor and energy costs," they must have solid financial, informational and political support.

Every business needs human capital to grow, but many Connecticut companies feel this resource is in short supply. Mr. Penner of Neurogen provided a case in point, noting that when hiring chemists and information technology specialists, his company had to go overseas for qualified candidates. Currently, 25% of his workforce is Oriental; many come from China. "We must have more knowledge workers in Connecticut," Penner concluded, and to accomplish that, he proposed that business clusters join forces with educational centers of excellence.

Mr. Olsen, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO, wondered why more companies weren't involved in retraining efforts. "They say they want skilled employees, yet they don't want to spend money on education," Olsen asserted. He added that if businesses are "only looking for first-quarter profits," it doesn't enhance the well-being of Connecticut or the country as a whole. "To peak as a state," he said, "we must have a sound foundation, and that foundation lies in a prospering citizenry."

In his role as head of CETC, Mr. Barnes noted that the state was committed to educating employees. His commission, comprised of 24 individuals appointed by the governor (by statute, half are from the private sector), reviews all training programs in the state, to evaluate their success and ensure that goals are met. "Our charge is to make the programs as demand-driven as possible," he said.

A Focus on Education

Retraining adults is essential to building intellectual capital. So, too, is the need to properly educate our children, starting at the kindergarten level, says Dr. Denenberg of SNET. She observed that although children are learning at a faster pace today, the United States still trails other nations in testing. Another problem is the uneven quality of education in Connecticut.

She suggests setting new priorities and seeking new solutions, such as "more school days" and "distance learning-the great equalizer." Dr. Gaudiani of Connecticut College believes we should begin closing the quality gap before elementary school, in day care centers: "There's a huge difference between corporate centers and those that are federally funded." She also sees "micro-lending" as a way to "wire up poor families," giving them a jump on technology.

Gaudiani noted that in the past decade at Connecticut College, science majors have climbed from 6% to 26% of the student population. This happened, she says, "not by accident, but by design," with several factors have contributing to the change. The first is the school's heightened commitment to science and globalization; the second is the implementation of the Center for Arts and Technology, where virtual reality is available in all disciplines.

Commissioner DeRocco agrees that universities should have a "functional capability." At the same time, he says, schools should be engaged in developing "civility." We must educate citizens to be "sufficiently self-reflective," he declares, "so that they can understand their own values and limitations." In this way, they can be party to economic progress.

DeRocco says that like businesses, colleges should form clusters, so they can impart knowledge not only beyond their own walls, but beyond the borders of their states.

Mr. Pescatello, special counsel to the governor, concurs that we must think in terms of larger, geographical areas if we are to thrive economically. As part of the state's "Partnership for Growth," he helped draft legislation on clusters, which includes tax credits and $30 million in funding to encourage their creation.

Call for Action, Teamwork

The panel reached a consensus on several points: Connecticut suffers from social and economic apartheid, which must be remedied; educational excellence from p focused#Öp> e-elementary through post-secondary schooling is critical; and the state should promote many technologies, instead of targeting one or two promising ones. CASE's Dr. Malone closed the meeting with five thoughts. Yes, we can harness knowledge, which will double in volume by the year 2008, he said. To do that, we must have a vision, and incorporate that vision into society. We need both strategies and benchmarks to guide us. Finally, we must realize that success hinges on cooperation among all sectors. "This is not a task for CASE, education or industry alone," he said. "It is a task for all of us."-- Louise Petraitis, Indelible Ink.


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