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OK EDGE Program Eliminated, Funding Slated for Endowed Chairs

May 30, 2012

A program envisioned nine years ago as a $1 billion endowment that would transform Oklahoma into the research capital of the Great Plains was eliminated last week by the legislature. The Economic Development Generating Excellence Fund, or EDGE Fund, which provided grants to high-tech companies, was unable to secure a long-term financial commitment from the state following an initial appropriation of $150 million in 2006. The balance of the fund, about $161 million, will be transferred to Oklahoma universities for the endowed chairs program to fund academic positions and research.

Championed by former Gov. Brad Henry, the EDGE program was conceptualized in 2003 as an endowment to support strategically targeted research across the state. When fully funded, the endowment was expected to generate up to $40 million annually for investment toward matching grants to compete for federally funded centers of excellence, investing in capital for technology commercialization, and providing startup capital to attract researchers to the state, among other priorities. Legislation creating two oversight boards for EDGE was passed in 2006 (see the June 26, 2006 issue of the Digest).

Despite several attempts by Gov. Henry in the following years to provide a permanent funding source for the program, legislators did not allocate additional funds. Using interest earned on the initial investment, the EDGE oversight board awarded grants totaling $29.4 million to 17 high-tech companies over the past four years, reports The Oklahoman. The bill passed by lawmakers last week abolishes the Board of Investors and the EDGE Fund Policy Board and directs the state treasurer to transfer the bulk of the remaining funds to the Oklahoma State Regents Endowment Trust Fund after July 1, 2012.

Gov. Mary Fallin is expected to sign the bill. The money will be used to match privately funded endowed chairs — mostly in the areas of science, technology and math, according to the governor's press release.

Oklahomahigher ed, capital, r&d, state tbed