RICHLAND - Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., visited one of about 150 companies Saturday that can trace their roots to Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland.
Her tour of InnovaTek in Richland came as proposed cuts to the federal government threaten not only up to 600 jobs at PNNL, but also the scientific investigation that is critical to private sector jobs in the high tech industry, she said.
"PNNL is an incubator for private-sector job growth here in the Tri-Cities, having created more than 2,000 jobs at 100 different companies in this region," Cantwell said at a news conference after the tour.
"Nearly half of U.S. economic growth since 1945 can be attributed to investments in science and technology," she said.
Congress has failed to pass a budget for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, but on Feb. 19, the House passed a budget that could cost PNNL 100 to 600 jobs. Because PNNL receives money from multiple federal agencies and programs within those agencies, the jobs that would be cut from the 4,500 at the Richland lab have been difficult to estimate.
The Senate rejected the House budget Wednesday, with Cantwell among those in opposition. The government now is operating under a continuing resolution that allows federal spending through Friday.
A balanced budget will require responsible cuts in spending, Cantwell said. But cuts that affect high tech jobs are not the answer, she said.
"Limiting the potential of innovative national technology research labs, such as PNNL, is not the way to boost job creation or improve our international competitiveness," she said.
InnovaTek is using fundamental science discoveries made at PNNL and other national labs to develop advanced products for sustainable energy production, said Patricia Irving, the owner of InnovaTek. She founded the company after managing energy and environmental technology development at PNNL.
"These products will help us move away from imported fossil fuels that are ruining our environment and sending our money to the Middle East," she said. "But these new technologies are complex systems that require significant advances in a number of scientific disciplines such as catalysis, materials science, fluid dynamics and electro-chemistry."
Among InnovaTek's products is a fuel processor that catalytically converts liquid fuel to generate hydrogen that can be used to power fuel cells.
"If we wish to solve our energy crisis, without having big impacts on our way of life, we are going to need complex, advanced technologies," she said. "These technologies cannot be developed overnight."
PNNL is seen by the Tri-City Development Council as key to the Tri-Cities economy as Hanford environmental cleanup is completed, said Carl Adrian, TRIDEC president. The community's future is tied in large part to technology development, he said.
PNNL has an annual budget of $1.1 billion, which is about three times the size of the Washington State University research budget and almost as large as the University of Washington research budget, he said.
Almost half of PNNL's budget goes to subcontracts and purchases, which accounts for about 2,000 jobs outside the lab, and many of those jobs are likely in the Northwest, Adrian said.
PNNL also is important as the single largest employer in the Tri-Cities, with a local payroll of about $410 million, he said.