Beyond the myth of government not creating jobs

By Scott Mooneyham | Oct 24, 2012


RALEIGH -- I sometimes wonder whether Jim Goodnight shudders a little each time he hears a political candidate repeat the myth.

"Government doesn't create jobs."

It's been a popular phrase this election season.

Goodnight knows that it isn’t true.

The company that he heads, Cary-based SAS Institute, is living, breathing example that government does, in fact, create jobs.

And no, not just public-sector jobs.

SAS is the largest privately-held company in North Carolina and one of the largest privately-held software companies in the world. Today, it employs about 13,000 workers worldwide, with about 5,000 of those in North Carolina.

The company was founded in 1976, but the idea behind it began earlier at N.C. State University, with a taxpayer-funded grant from the National Institutes of Health.

The grant paid for the development of computer software to analyze agricultural data being collected by eight public universities across the Southeast. The collection of that data was also paid for with the help of federal grants, these from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

N.C. State University became the lead the university, in part, because of another public investment -- it housed a huge mainframe computer -- and two N.C. State faculty members, Goodnight and Jim Barr, became project leaders.

Goodnight, Barr and two other N.C. State faculty members would go on to found the private company after the NIH grant expired.

That history doesn’t diminish the individual initiative, risk-taking and hard work required by those involved in turning the company into what it is today. It doesn't mean that private capital wasn't needed to turn SAS the research project into SAS the company.

What that history shows, though, is that government and tax dollars do help to create jobs, particularly when it comes to the taxpayer-supported activities at the nation's prominent research universities.

And SAS isn't unique.

The genesis of LED-light maker Cree Inc., with its 3,200 employees, also started at an N.C. State University lab.


And N.C. State University isn't unique.


Federal grants provided for the base research that led to the formation of any number of high-tech, pharmaceutical and biotech firms.


But why let reality get in the way of a political candidate barking out a catchy talking point?


By anyone's measure, the United States is home to many of the world's top research universities. One of the most prominent rankings, known as the Shanghai Ranking, puts 52 of the top-100 universities in the world in the U.S.

To believe that the tax-supported research that goes on at those universities doesn't contribute mightily to the United State's economy, job creation and our economic place in the world is to put on blinders, insert ear plugs and then dive head first into a sand pit.

Our politicians unfortunately exhibit this kind of behavior only figuratively rather than literally.

And so, we are forced to listen to babbling and myth uttered as truth and wisdom, especially as elections near.