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Higher Ed as the Basis for Economic Growth: The Georgia Story

December 12, 2005

Over the last 15 years, few states have been as focused on investing in higher education to encourage sustainable economic prosperity as Georgia. At SSTI's 9th Annual Conference on Oct. 19-21, 2005, presenters made the case that the southern state is a national leader in American higher education.

Higher Ed as the Basis for Economic Growth: The Georgia Story featured Mike Cassidy, president and chief executive officer of the Georgia Research Alliance (GRA). Joining Cassidy were Michael Gerber, president of the Atlanta Regional Council for Higher Education (ARCHE), Joy Hymel, executive director of the Intellectual Capital Partnership Program (ICAPP), and David Lee, director of strategic research and analysis of the Georgia Student Finance Commission (GSFC).

The session examined the full spectrum of Georgia's strategy to encourage university-oriented tech-based economic development (TBED) through workforce preparedness, research funding, infrastructure development, technology commercialization, and regional branding.

GRA, a public-private partnership that acts as Georgia's lead science and technology program, is a widely emulated model for TBED. It is a group whose board is drawn from the top levels of some of the state’s largest corporations and six universities - Clark Atlanta University, Emory University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University, Medical College of Georgia, and University of Georgia.

Cassidy highlighted GRA's Eminent Scholars program, which recruits scientists to Georgia to lead R&D programs having high potential economic development impact for the state. The scientists come from all parts of the world and, to date, number 51. Cassidy also emphasized three GRA initiatives to encourage technology transfer - the GRA Innovation Fund, VentureLab, and funding for technology incubators at universities.

Either directly or indirectly, the alliance has over the last 10 years helped to bring Georgia from the lower or middle tier to the top tier of states on several measures of economic vitality. Examples of measures include:

  • The $400 million GRA has invested on behalf of the state in people, laboratories and equipment needed for innovative university R&D has brought nearly $2 billion in new federal and private funds into the Georgia economy, a return of $5 for every $1 invested.
  • Venture capital investments from 1995 to 2000 grew from $100 million to $1 billion.
  • Alliance university partners have increased their research collaborations with industry by 800 percent since the early 1990s.
  • More than 100 high-value technology companies have spun out of university research.

Additionally, since 1990, GRA has helped attract 120 world-class researchers to Georgia and 1,500 high-tech jobs have been created at the state's research universities, Cassidy said.

Gerber's presentation detailed several reports prepared by ARCHE, an organization whose mission focuses on advancing Atlanta-area higher education. In particular, Gerber highlighted a study that ranks Atlanta in the top eight of the 60 largest U.S. metro areas across 20 measures of higher ed. Some of 2000-2001 measures cited, with ranking shown in parentheses, were total research expenditures (4); degrees conferred in engineering and related technologies (2), in the biological and life sciences (7) and in the computer and information sciences (5); total degrees (3); and total enrollment (7).

Hymel and Lee made similar presentations, detailing their respective organization's contribution to the Georgia economy through higher ed-friendly programs. Hymel, for example, noted that ICAPP has helped assist more than 1,300 Georgians to become licensed health professionals through its Health Professionals Initiative. The new positions are expected to generate an annual payroll of $45.2 million and an estimated $2.7 million each year in state income taxes.

GSFC's HOPE Scholarship Program - funded by the Georgia Lottery - will have provided more than $3.2 billion in scholarship and grant assistance by the end of 2006, Lee said. The program provides such assistance to Georgia residents who attend eligible state postsecondary institutions. Since the program's inception in 1994, more than four million awards have been made to almost one million students.