Thursday, November 20, 2003

It's the nano economy, stupid

On Nov. 24, economists and urban planners will discuss how nanotechnology could become an engine of economic creation for Portland, Ore. The Hillsboro Argus reports the event will be Webcast and viewers will be able to e-mail questions.

The event, itself, is a question: "Will Nanotech Re-seed the Silicon Forest?" It's an important one to answer for a region that is struggling against a stubborn jobless rate, according to this report in the Portland Business Tribune.

It's no accident that one of the key drivers of the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act (PDF, 56.1 KB) is Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore. The bill charges the National Science and Technology Council with encouraging "... the employment of underutilized manufacturing facilities in areas of high unemployment as production engineering and research testbeds ..."

Job creation and economic boostrapping is the undertone to world political and business leaders' abrupt discovery of nanotechnology (albeit a "nanotechnology" that is a more-direct cousin to the chemicals and materials industries, since true bottom-up molecular manufacturing isn't likely to create very many new jobs in the short term). This just-below-the-surface, almost desperate wish that nanotechnology will succeed as a last best hope for the economy is infused into discussions not just in Oregon, but everywhere from Upstate New York to Down Under.

But you don't find a great deal of reporting on this in larger publications, which focus mainly on the technological and controversial angles to the story. For the most part, you need to look at your local newspaper or chamber of commerce calendar of events to find out the extent to which your community leaders hope that nano is the answer.

As we've seen from Philly to Atlanta, Rushford to Russia, the fresh money being poured into nano development worldwide is not a story that should remain relegated to the geek ghettos of the science and technology sections, but it's also front-page news about the future of manufacturing and employment.

That's one reason Congress has taken a sudden interest in nanotechnology.


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