President Elson S. Floyd

Perspectives

Elson S. Floyd, Ph.D. - 8/1/07

WSU: Economic Development Leader

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Industrial Revolution transformed our nation from an agrarian to a manufacturing economy. Today’s ongoing transformation is just as dramatic, as the world’s economy is changing from one based on resources to one based on knowledge and human capital.

Those of us in higher education are in the knowledge business. And the modern research university must play a central role in that economic renewal.

The great economic development potential in Washington is a major reason that I was excited to come back to this state. Clearly, Washington already is a technology leader—the names of Boeing and Microsoft come quickly to mind. But just as clearly, we have much more work to do.

If your economy is based on resources, the winners and losers (or the haves and have-nots) are well-defined. An economy based on knowledge and human capital is far more dynamic. People pick up and move to seek different opportunities and a better way of life. Regions must continue their efforts to educate and attract the next generation of scientists and entrepreneurs. The ever-quickening pace of economic competition means that a state that doesn’t move boldly forward will soon fall behind.

Washington State University is in an ideal position to be an economic development leader. WSU’s faculty members have a large and growing portfolio of research funded through government and foundation grants. The WSU Research Foundation is expanding its efforts to reach out to venture capitalists who can bring more of that research to the marketplace. In 2005 and 2006, the research foundation’s licensing agreements produced more than $2.7 million in income, a fourfold increase from the previous two years.

As the state’s land-grant university, WSU is active in each of Washington’s counties, providing individualized attention to people in those unique communities as they strengthen and diversify their economies.

One of the first actions that I took as president of WSU was the appointment of John Gardner as vice president for economic development and extension to spearhead our efforts statewide. Dr. Gardner, who filled a similar role at the University of Missouri, offers a broad spectrum of experience, both in the private sector and in academia.

His main office will be in Seattle, which is the focus of economic activity for the state of Washington and a major economic player for the entire Pacific Rim. He also will be active around the state -- on the Pullman campus, on our Vancouver, Tri-Cities and Spokane campuses and with WSU faculty and staff and community members at our research and extension centers.

Nationwide, several areas – the research triangle in North Carolina, California’s Silicon Valley, Massachusetts’ Route 128 – invariably are cited as examples of the sustained economic growth that can happen when higher education, private business and the public sector work together effectively.

In the future, when the experts talk about how higher education can build public-private partnerships to make the New Economy work, I want Washington State University to be a prime example.

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