LAWMAKERS never have a shortage of ideas of how to spend other people's money. In this case, we're talking not only about taxpayer dollars but about a special fund established five years ago. The Economic Development Generating Excellence (EDGE) endowment fund isn't a cookie jar to be raided but a long-term investment that must be maintained.
The EDGE story is worth repeating, not only for the sake of the newer occupants of NE 23 and Lincoln, but also because it's a trajectory of excellence that all Oklahomans can be proud of.
EDGE began as a grassroots organization looking to strengthen Oklahoma's economy. Input from experts and citizens from across the state identified research and education as the building blocks to progress. The endowment fund got a $150 million initial investment from the Legislature in 2007, with interest generated from the principal awarded annually to promising scientific research initiatives.
The program has been remarkably successful in its first four rounds of grants, with about $29.4 million distributed to 17 recipients. EDGE seeks to help projects traverse the “valley of death,” also known as the commercialization gap, between the proven success of initial research and the stage of commercialization. All 17 projects are still in business. How many other state programs can boast a 100 percent success rate?
EDGE projects leverage additional dollars through federal research grants and private investment and have brought more than $100 million in contracts to Oklahoma. For each dollar spent from the endowment earnings, the return on investment is $11.65. EDGE projects have created eight new businesses; the grants are responsible for close to 1,000 jobs in Oklahoma, not to mention unquantifiable hundreds more due to the additional contracts. The projects have been awarded 28 patents while collaborating with 173 business and research partners.
“One of the hidden benefits of EDGE is it has brought together the business community and research community to build these kind of partnerships,” Paul Risser, executive director of the EDGE Fund Policy Board, told The Oklahoman's editorial board last week.