Karen Jackson, Virginia’s secretary of technology.

Oct 06 2016

Virginia, California and Colorado Boost Economies with Strategic IT Investments

More states are tapping into the power of technology innovation to stimulate local economies.

State investments in technology are not only driving economic development, but also helping to improve government services.

Virginia’s recently passed state budget goes beyond cybersecurity education. The state is also beefing up its own cybersecurity posture by earmarking $8.2 million to set up a shared cyberservices center that will oversee security across the state, says Karen Jackson, the state’s secretary of technology.

The state budget also includes funding for 10 new cyberforensics positions for the Virginia State Police and four new positions to improve cybersecurity at the Virginia Fusion Center, an information exchange between the state and federal government.

Virginia Sees Good ROI on Startup Investments

Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology (CIT), a nonprofit funded by the state, provides local entrepreneurs and startups with the capital they need to get their companies off the ground. Moreover, the organization’s investments are starting to pay off, including through the creation of new jobs, CIT leaders say.

CIT’s Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund (CRCF) provides grants to researchers at local companies, universities, federal labs and research institutions to commercialize technology, says CIT’s Vice President for Research Investment Nancy Vorona. Since 2012, the fund has announced investments of nearly $20 million in 232 projects focused on cybersecurity, life sciences, unmanned systems and other state industry priorities. The state has seen a good return on investment, including $58 million in follow-on investments and 150 patents issued, pending or under development, she says.

Another fund, the CIT GAP Funds program, has doled out $18 million in equity investments to seed early-stage startups over the past 12 years. The portfolio is expected to create 8,000 to 10,000 jobs in the next five years, says Tom Weithman, CIT’s GAP Funds investment director. CIT ends up owning part of the businesses it invests in. Any profits that result are used to help fund other startups, Weithman says.

States Launch Innovation Initiatives

The state is also pursuing Big Data initiatives. In August, it held its third “datathon” and has implemented a data internship program where state agencies work with university students to analyze state data on projects to improve state services or business processes, Jackson says.

Elsewhere, Colorado recently kicked off the Training Tomorrow’s Talent internship, a public-private partnership that provides Colorado college students with paid internships to work in the Governor’s Office of Information Technology.

“It’s a win-win for everyone,” says Jonita LeRoy, Colorado’s senior IT economic development representative. “The intern gets exposure to the industry, the vendor gets someone new in the industry who gets exposed to their technology, and we have a resource to work on a project.”

This summer, California’s Department of Technology launched the California Innovation Lab, an open-source environment on the state’s secure private cloud that allows state agencies to cost-effectively build, test and deploy open-source web applications that improve services for citizens.

The goal is for agencies to develop open-source applications that can be shared and reused by other agencies, says Scott Gregory, the state’s geographic information officer and deputy director of the new Office of Digital Innovation and Technology Engagement, which runs the innovation lab. It’s a collaborative space that allows agencies to pursue innovative government technology solutions.

“It will open new doors to very innovative thinking,” he says. “A department can team up with another department to develop a proof-of-concept to solve a shared organizational issue.”

The California State Innovation Lab is currently available only to state agencies. But over time, Gregory hopes to make it available to city and county governments so they too can take advantage of the lab’s services and open-source code, Gregory says.

The Office of Digital Innovation recently redesigned the state’s website into a more user-friendly portal that makes it easier for California residents to find the information or services they need.

In September, the state’s Government Operations Agency launched a new open-data portal that publishes public government records. The open-data portal, managed by CDT’s Office of Digital Innovation, not only makes public information more readily accessible, but also paves the way for state agencies and people in the community to develop applications that make use of the data, Gregory says.

“We are setting up a new culture in how we want to approach open-source, and we’re opening the doors to a broader group of developers and entrepreneurs who can come and share their knowledge and help us grow,” he says.

To learn more about how states are investing in technology to great economic results, read "State IT Leaders Leverage Technology to Spur Economic Growth."

Brad Howell

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