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Evaluating the Industries of Ideas

News Type College News

By Joan Slattery Wall

Historically, economic activity has been measured in terms of production — farming and manufacturing, for example. Later, the focus shifted to management, research and development, and production.

But in the knowledge economy, how do you measure the investment in and impact of ideas?

Faculty at the John Glenn College of Public Affairs and College of Arts and Sciences spearhead Ohio State’s work on a U.S. National Science Foundation, $4.5 million pilot project to answer that question by following the people who learn and train at universities and then gain employment in artificial intelligence and electric vehicles in Ohio. They will work to produce a database and dashboard that could eventually be used or adapted by other states to evaluate different industries and federal and state as well as corporate and private investments.

Bruce Weinberg, the Eric Byron Fix-Monda Endowed Professor of Economics and Public Affairs, is the lead investigator on Ohio State’s role in the three-year NSF project. 

“Most of what we do involves taking knowledge and putting it in the hands of students, postdocs and staff and developing a workforce that’s knowledgeable about these things,” Weinberg said. “So, a way of measuring this is tracking people who are engaged in research projects and seeing where they get hired.”

People are the vectors of the transmission of ideas.

Bruce Weinberg
Eric Byron Fix-Monda Endowed Professor of Economics and Public Affairs

The NSF Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships (TIP) project, “Industries of Ideas: A prototype system for measuring the effects of TIP investments on firms and jobs,” will examine the AI and EV industries because they are complex, crosscutting and the subject of significant investment. For example, in the past two years, the NSF has funded two AI institutes, one in networking and one in cyberinfrastructure, each at nearly $20 million, and a $5 million center to use AI to study biodiversity and climate change, involving Ohio State. In addition, Ohio State, Honda, Schaeffler Americas, and state and federal leaders recently announced the creation of a new $22 million battery cell research and development center slated to open in April 2025.

Because the “Industries of Ideas” pilot project is focused on Ohio, it will have direct benefits at the state level.

“This is an attempt to help the state take advantage of what’s a very important change in economic activity: the increasing prevalence of EVs and AI. Because of that increasing investment, it creates both risks and opportunities for the state, and people need to be able to measure them,” said Professor Joshua Hawley, director of the Ohio Education Research Center at the Glenn College.

It provides us with a way of helping the State of Ohio understand the effect of its own policies.

Joshua Hawley
Glenn College Professor and Director of the Ohio Education Research Center

As a result of this work, the state will have better data regarding federal and state investments and resulting employment and measuring that over time, Hawley said. 

“So if the state were to, say, put another $10 billion into EV subsidies, they’re expecting to get a certain amount of dollars back in terms of taxes or wages,” Hawley said. “It also increases the ability for the state to continue to learn from its universities.”

“This project has the potential to provide insights that we do not have using traditional measures of labor market information,” said Coretta Pettway, deputy director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Office of Workforce Development. For example, the North American Industry Classification System does not distinguish between EV, hybrid and gas/diesel vehicles in manufacturing, and AI falls within a category that covers the physical, engineering and life sciences but is not separately measured.

The data from the Industries of Ideas project would help the state identify emerging occupations in advance of traditional labor market data and see how investments in AI and EV industries impact firms and career trajectories, Pettway said.

“This will be increasingly important as Ohio has already secured several EV-related projects with potentially 25,000 EV-related jobs projected to be needed by those investments,” she said.


Rendering of the battery cell research and development center to be created at Ohio State with industry partners (Credit: Ohio State)

“One example of how we might use this type of data would be to develop training programs and bolster services provided by workforce development programs to facilitate employment and career pathways in these industries and more,” Pettway said. “This includes reskilling, upskilling and new skill acquisition.” 

In addition to Ohio State, project partners include the Institute for Research on Innovation and Science at the University of Michigan, which will provide data on universities and research activities. The Social Science Research Council, a consortium of universities in social science, will engage other researchers in the work. The State of Ohio will provide employment data and road test the team’s findings. 

“What we’re trying to do is build something straightforward and transparent, with sound economic principles and a strong evidence base,” said Weinberg, “that can really help to evaluate these investments and also determine how they can be more efficient, impactful and effective.”

“Over the past several years, Ohio has demonstrated a deep commitment to making data-driven decisions and has repeatedly caught the attention of technology leaders from around the world,” Pettway said. “That commitment, coupled with the strength of our network of public and private universities, puts us in a great position to remain a technology leader well into the future.”

Read the National Science Foundation Industries of Ideas announcement.

(Story image used under license from seksan94,