No Lack of Possibilities – STIP Summer 2011 Interns

From urban agriculture to health information technology, STIP interns offered fresh perspectives on economic development Sept. 9, 2011, when they presented results of their summer research projects at Technology Square.  The seventh annual readout session was attended by an audience of faculty, students, economic developers and government officials.

In an introduction, Jan Youtie from Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute and a co-director of the intern program, noted, “New and good ideas are a vital part of economic development.  The STIP interns do that.”

Mobile augmented reality

Nettrice Gaskins, a doctoral student in Georgia Tech’s School of Literature, Communication and Culture, investigated the emergence of a new field called mobile augmented reality (AR)—the overlaying of digital information onto the real world via a camera phone or other camera-enabled mobile device.  Mobile AR increases the level of engagement among users (employees and customers), she said, noting that consumers can see, in 3-DE, color, design and other features of a product before buying it.  The market is expected to grow in the next three to five years, she reported, adding that global revenues could reach $1.5 billion by 2015.  The total mobile AR market will be split into seven categories, 75 percent of which are games, location-based services and enterprise applications.  And the applications are many, including multimedia, health and education, she said.

Metro Atlanta houses nine AR companies, which represent a pre-emerging cluster stage, according to Gaskins.  “A critical mass is building quickly in New York City but more slowly in Atlanta,” she said.  Still, Atlanta is well-positioned to support AR startups, she said, adding that investors must become more aware of AR and the field needs to get on “government radar.”  She recommended (1) increasing networking opportunities, (2) encouraging collaborations, (3) recognizing new policy tools, and (4) integrating local content.

Energy efficiency and conservation block grants

A doctoral student in Georgia Tech’s School of Public Policy, Ben Deitchman, examined the federally funded energy efficiency and conservation block grant program in Georgia, part of an effort to bring energy efficiency activities to the local level with the aim of reducing emissions, cutting total energy use and creating/retaining jobs.  The economic development angle entails investing in green jobs and growing the energy services industries.

Funds have been allocated across the state, chiefly in metro Atlanta and the larger counties, with the three greatest allotments going toward energy audits and retrofits, he said, followed by street lighting, then roofing.  The bulk of the grant money has gone to schools and government office buildings.  In Georgia, he said, only 74 percent of recipients reported job creation, 57 percent reported business development, and 19 percent reported household savings.  Low-cost policy options for sustaining the work beyond the grant include (1) creating local energy committees, (2) establishing revolving loan funds and tax credits, and (3) continuing education, training and certification.  Working along these lines, he suggested, could help meet the Georgia Energy Challenge—reducing energy consumption 15 percent by 2020.

Innovation in health information technology

Deji Fajebe, a doctoral student in Georgia Tech’s Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, looked at patent activity related to health information technology (HIT) and how well Georgia can take advantage of patents generated here to foster growth in this industry.  In his study, patent counts represented a measure of HIT innovation, and a significant impetus was federal stimulus funding via the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of $19 billion devoted nationally to HIT.

He examined several domains of innovation, which included bar coding and RFID, electronic health records, handheld devices, clinical decision support, claims/billing, and picture archiving and communication systems. Over his study period, most patent activity occurred in clinical decision support, then claims/billing, then electronic health records.  The number of published patents, he noted, significantly increased in the wake of ARRA dollars.  The biggest clusters of inventors and assignees (firms marketing the items) occurred in the Northeast and on the West Coast, he said, adding that most inventions in HIT are U.S.-owned, and even more are commercialized by U.S. small and midsize companies. Georgia, said Fajebe, has a presence on the inventor side but is weak on the assignee side, that is, it lags behind in commercialization of HIT and must come up with policies to capture HIT innovation and foster growth.

Urban agriculture

Working on a master’s degree in city and regional planning at Georgia Tech, Mary Richardson researched urban agriculture and identified opportunities for and barriers to it in Atlanta.   She identified several models—such as community gardens, urban agriculture businesses, school gardens—as well as numerous benefits, including blight remediation, energy savings, improved water quality, green jobs and improved access to food.  Her work drew on case studies from Philadelphia, Chicago and Atlanta.

Challenges to full blossoming of urban agriculture include zoning matters, water cost/access, public awareness, land acquisition, few trained personnel and lack of an appropriate governing body.  But on the plus side, she observed that the Atlanta Land Bank has identified 90 properties for urban agriculture, markets and demand are growing, and Atlanta has three successful startups and the city has issued two urban agriculture-related RFPs.  Richardson’s study included a vacant-land survey, and according to her Atlanta has 2,000-plus acres in some seven dozen suitable parcels.  Among her recommendations: (1) create a Food Policy Council, (2) develop suitable ordinances for land acquisition, (3) include food system planning into the city’s planning, and (4) include urban agriculture programs in youth outreach and job training.  Public-private partnerships and grants for pilot programs could also nourish the concept.

Georgia Tech’s program in Science, Technology and Innovation Policy (STIP) launched the intern program in 2005, and since that time 25 graduate students have conducted economic development research under it. Topics have ranged from Hispanic enterprises and biofuels to telecommuting and energy planning.  Each year, the program receives 20 or so proposals from which a committee reviews and selects three or four.  The interns spend the summer conducting their research projects and receiving mentoring from STIP faculty.  This year the committee comprised Greg Torre from the Georgia Department of Economic Development, Pat Sims from Georgia Power Company and Dennis Chastain from Georgia EMC.

The interns’ full reports are available from the menu under Internship Program on this website. For more information about the internships, contact Jan Youtie(jan.youtie@innovation.gatech.edu, 404/894-6111. STIP is a collaboration of Georgia Tech’s Enterprise Innovation Institute and School of Public Policy.