The value of partnerships in economic development

At a White House forum in the fall, I was privileged to be invited with other higher education officials, venture capitalists, and government agency representatives to discuss what is, in fact, one of today’s most critical topics: jobs and economic recovery. The forum showcased the clear link of higher education to the innovation and entrepreneurship that have fueled the nation’s economy for decades.

President Barack Obama’s call for the Washington, D.C. forum demonstrates his recognition of the integral role that higher education plays in the nation’s global position and economic health.

In Rhode Island, URI, along with many others, has been promoting essentially the same message. For example, at the annual Providence Chamber of Commerce dinner, Governor Lincoln C. Chafee, leaders from Brown University, Lifespan, Care New England, and others discussed how our collaboration could stimulate innovation and business development in the state’s growing health and life sciences industries.

In addition, the White House forum indicated that the size of our compact state can work to our benefit. Proximity matters. Two leading research institutions—URI and Brown—allow our state to become a hotbed of major discoveries and innovation. We are positioned to leverage our resources and talent to drive economic development in Rhode Island and in the nation.

Research and innovation at URI span a very wide range—from engineering to business to pharmaceutical sciences to the environment and to textiles and human services. Much of it is interdisciplinary, multilingual, and certainly multifaceted. The research and scholarship conducted is part of our core mission. Students are involved in research and creative work, and their experiential learning is more important than ever, for graduate students and undergraduates alike.

In 2012, our researchers received more than $98 million from competitive federal grants to fund 474 projects. In fact, external grants and contracts to URI have increased nearly 40 percent in the last three years. This research funding represents 14.5 percent of our total annual budget. Our state appropriation represents 8.5 percent.

A recent National Science Foundation report showed in the year 2010, URI and Brown brought nearly $500 million into the state’s economy through their research in a variety of fields. Studies have shown that every $1 in research funding received by URI returns about $1.70 to the local economy.

Our new partnership with the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce and Brown in support of the start-up accelerator Betaspring is very similar to the highly successful and well-documented ventures discussed at the White House forum. The bottom line is that research universities, government, and the private sector, by working together, can stimulate dramatic growth.

These partnerships and others foster our efforts to build a valuable teaching and research center in Providence’s Knowledge District to address growing demands for highly qualified nurses and research in biomedical fields.

Rhode Island’s burgeoning “meds and eds” partnerships can leverage the efforts of the Governor and the General Assembly to move the state forward, create innovative strategies, and take actions that will promote job creation and economic growth in our state.

Now the stage is set for bold, collaborative action. Working together, we can deliver new knowledge, develop and market new technologies, and use the knowledge and skills of faculty and researchers to prepare the next generation workforce and serve the needs of the state and nation.

—David M. Dooley