Impact of the NNI on the U.S. economy: at least $42 billion in one year!

By Mike Kiley
Nov. 28, 2022

The National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) coordinates investments in nanoscale research and development (R&D) across the U.S. government. Cumulatively, the participating government agencies and departments have invested more than $38 billion over the past 20 years to realize the potential of nanoscience and establish the United States as the leader in the field. But how does that investment in nanoscale science and technology R&D translate into tangible economic impacts that benefit the nation?

Over the history of the NNI, pointing to specific metrics – such as numbers and locations of companies, numbers of employees, employee salaries, and company revenues – has proved challenging because nanotechnology is such a broad and diverse topic, enabling many technology solutions. In 2014, the Executive Office of the President’s National Science and Technology Council worked with the U.S. Census Bureau to add a specific code to the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) for the purpose of classifying nanotechnology-related businesses. These codes are important to the Economic Census (conducted every five years), because they classify business activities in the United States and provide a means to analyze data collected by location, industry, and other selective factors.

Data from the 2017 Economic Census revealed that over 3,700 companies – with over 171,000 employees – self-identified as primarily being in the business of Nanotechnology R&D. In other words, they self-identified by using the NAICS code 541713, or “Research and Development in Nanotechnology.” These companies reported $42 billion in revenue and $20 billion in employee salaries. The single-year revenue figure of $42 billion in 2017 exceeds the cumulative 20-year NNI investment ($38 billion). Data from the 2022 Economic Census will be available in 2–3 years.

A revenue figure of $42 billion in one year is already impressive, but that only reflects companies that categorize themselves as primarily being a nanotechnology R&D company. As companies can only select one NAICS code, this figure does not capture the large number of companies who benefit from nanotechnology R&D or include it among a broader portfolio of R&D activities. For example, a company that works at the nanoscale to develop increasingly smaller microprocessors could select one of the computer or semiconductor categories and not nanotechnology R&D, despite its major investments in the field. Therefore, the $42 billion revenue figure likely does not include the economic impact of nanotechnology on the daily lives of U.S. residents through products such as consumer electronics, advanced computing, COVID-19 vaccines and other nanomedicines, drug delivery systems, display technologies, advanced coatings and materials, water filtration and purification systems, battery and solar technologies, and consumer goods.

So there you have it! The annual impact of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) on the U.S. economy in 2017 was at least $42 billion from over 3,700 nanotech companies – and likely much more.

Mike Kiley is the industry liaison (contract staff) for the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office.