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January 2001 Column by the President

Universities focused on Indiana's economic development

Martin C. Jischke

President, Purdue University

As the new president of Purdue University, I've been visiting communities around the state, listening to our business and legislative leaders. The message I'm receiving is very consistent: Business, universities and government must develop an integrated approach to promoting economic development in Indiana.

An overview of the current situation not only reveals challenges to our Indiana economy but also points to obvious opportunities for cooperation.

What are the challenges? Technology has transformed the manufacturing sector, upon which Indiana depends more than any other state. Inventory, purchasing, marketing, design and quality control have become exceedingly sophisticated. Companies need help mastering technology and developing new management practices.

In addition, the growth in Indiana's economy is moving from manufacturing to high-tech, knowledge-based industry. Technology now is the driving force behind the creation of new jobs, increases in productivity and the generation of wealth. If Indiana is going to be a player in the new economy, it must help create more high-tech enterprises, as well as help our existing industries be innovative in utilizing new technologies.

Purdue has put forward an ambitious plan based on a report by a legislative study committee and the Indiana Economic Development Council. Under the proposal, we would:

• Develop technology centers around the state, modeling them after the highly successful Technology Center at the Purdue Research Park. These regional technology centers, fed by the research and technical expertise available from the university, would become the incubators of new ideas. The Purdue park would help them as they get ready to move forward on their own.

• Help faculty move their discoveries from the laboratory to the marketplace by providing financial and technical assistance. The fledgling 21st Century Research and Technology Fund, which the state set up in 1998, has invested $50 million to foster the growth of new innovations. Other neighboring states, however, are investing much more. We should consider a significant increase in that investment for the next biennium.

• Expand the Purdue Technical Assistance Program to reach more existing and developing Indiana businesses with the expertise to solve technical problems, improve management practices, create opportunities and grow. Since the TAP program began 14 years ago, it has generated almost $60 million in capital investments and saved or created almost 4,000 jobs. We can do more by expanding TAP on a regional basis – creating eight new sites and expanding three others.

• Help communities design strategic plans for economic development, especially in predominantly rural areas. Our university faculty and Extension agents have the expertise to help with the myriad of growth-related challenges: identifying an area's competitive advantage, land-use planning, financing public services, highway planning and financing, dealing with environmental issues and identifying available financial resources from outside the community. We need to set up a structure to help communities tap this expertise and identify available outside financial resources.

• Educate people already on the job. Purdue, the Community College system and Ivy Tech Vocational College already help by offering technology-based classes and degree programs across the state. We've asked the Legislature to help us expand those offerings.

A second statewide plan is endorsed by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education. It seeks state funding to help our state-supported universities establish or expand degree programs for the new economy, including some involving:

• Biomedical engineering and genomics;

• Computer and information sciences and technologies;

• Advanced medical science, biotechnology and health care;

• Engineering and engineering technology;

• Entrepreneurship;

• Animation, graphics, imaging and visualization; and

• Telecommunications technologies.

Graduates from these programs not only will provide the work force to attract high-tech companies, they also will start many of their own new economy businesses.

As I write this, the state is contemplating a budget that would allow very little in the way of new programming and projects. If we do nothing while other states leap forward, Indiana not only will slide further behind its neighbors, but we may void any chance of ever catching up.

We must look at education not as a drain on the budget but as an investment in our economic future. Indiana's public universities are ready to take our state to the next level. Working together, we can make it happen.

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