WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer on Wednesday jump-started his bipartisan effort to boost America's technological competitiveness and spread big tech's bounty beyond places like Silicon Valley and perhaps toward places such as Western New York.
Schumer, a New York Democrat, joined Sen. Todd Young, an Indiana Republican, and a number of House members from both parties in reintroducing their Endless Frontier Act. The bill would authorize $100 billion over five years to fund a new Technology and Innovation Directorate at the National Science Foundation, along with $10 billion at the Department of Commerce to set up 10 regional tech hubs.
While the Department of Commerce would decide where those tech hubs would go, "this is an amazing opportunity for Western New York," Schumer told The Buffalo News.
Schumer and Young first introduced the bill last May, but it died in what was then a Republican-controlled Senate. But now that he controls the Senate agenda, Schumer laid out an aggressive timetable for the bill's passage.
He said he hopes to bring the measure to the Senate floor by mid-May. He said a handful of conservative Republicans may oppose the measure on ideological grounds, but he hopes they won't stop the measure from passage given that Young and six other GOP senators have already cosponsored it.
Schumer said there is a clear reason why lawmakers from both parties and the Biden administration support the measure: It counters China's heavy research investment in a number of high tech fields.
"We are better right now in all of these areas than the Chinese, but if they keep outspending us, we will fall behind, and we will no longer be the leading economic power in the world, plain and simple," Schumer said.
Young, the Indiana Republican, agreed.
"This is a rare opportunity to show the authoritarians in Beijing and the rest of the world that when it comes to our national security, and most importantly our China policy, we are united," he said. "I’ve worked with my colleagues to ensure the Endless Frontier Act will help invest in innovative small businesses that create jobs, invest in critical emerging technologies and put America in a position to outgrow, out-innovate and out-compete our leading geopolitical foe."
The legislation aims to bolster U.S. research in 10 key technological fields, including artificial intelligence, semiconductors, quantum computing, advanced communications, biotechnology and advanced energy. The bill also sets up a new Supply Chain Resiliency and Crisis Response Program that aims to prevent basic supply-chain glitches such as the semiconductor shortage that is currently slowing U.S. auto production.
But the part of the bill that could have the most direct impact on Buffalo is its call for the development of 10 regional tech hubs. Metro areas with an already-huge tech presence, such as Austin, Texas, would not be eligible – but areas such as Western New York would be.
"You give a billion dollars to each tech hub," Schumer said. "It would be flexible so that the funds can be used for commercialization, for capital startups, for workforce training, for infrastructure, for supply chain."
Most of the hubs would probably focus on two or three technological areas, Schumer added.
The New Frontier Act has already generated significant excitement in Western New York. M&T Bank, now developing a tech hub at Seneca One tower, supports a Western New York bid to become one of the 10 tech hubs the bill would create. And tech executives in the region are already putting together a joint Buffalo-Rochester bid for a tech hub.
"I think it's a wonderful, wonderful opportunity for the Western New York community, and I believe that all the right people are collaborating together as we speak to make sure that we put forth the best application possible," said William Maggio, managing partner of the private equity firm Lorraine Capital and chairman of the newly formed 43North Foundation.
Schumer is excited about the bill, too – so excited, in fact, that he went to the Senate floor Wednesday to tout it.
"We want to see Silicon Valleys across the country – from my home state of New York, especially upstate, to communities in the south, to the Midwest, to other places that rarely get the attention they merit, despite the potential of their workforces, their institutions and their links to the global economy," he said. "Technological growth and jobs should not be limited to a few centers in America. This bill attempts to spread it to other communities as well."