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Arkansas State University Officials Hear State Report on Research and Economic Development


JONESBORO – Three officials from Arkansas State University who are key players in research, entrepreneurship, and economic development activities were in Little Rock Tuesday for release of a major study regarding innovative entrepreneurship and job creation that was commissioned by the Arkansas Research Alliance (ARA).

The ARA is a nonprofit organization governed by a board of trustees consisting of chancellors from Arkansas research universities, including Arkansas State, and business chief executive officers from across the state.

The study was conducted by Battelle Institute, a nonprofit organization that is recognized as a global leader in science, technology, education, and commercial innovation.

Dr. Andy Sustich, interim associate vice chancellor for research and chief research officer, Alan McVey, executive director of the Delta Center for Economic Development, and Brian Rogers, director of Catalyst commercial innovation center, listened to the presentation by Gov. Mike Beebe and Jerry Adams, director of ARA, in to order to be fully apprised of how the results of the study could impact research commercialization and entrepreneurship programs at Arkansas State.

The focus of the report was on the progress of the state’s initiatives to develop a more robust knowledge-based economy.  This strategy was identified by Gov. Beebe in the statewide economic development plan he presented in 2009.

“As a research institution, the importance of consistent or increased funding is critical to moving our research into commercialization,” McVey noted.  “The effort to expand knowledge-based/ technology development creates a pipeline for our graduates and has the potential to increase per capita income in our region and across the state.”

Other organizations closely aligned with the work of the Arkansas Research Alliance and represented at the announcement included the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, the Arkansas Science and Technology Authority, Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce, and Accelerate Arkansas.

According to Dr. Sustich, the report emphasized that while significant progress has been achieved in the knowledge-based economy over the past four years, several major steps will be required to sustain the trend.

For one, the study recommends a higher level of per capita university research funding.  In 2010, the per capita level was $87, compared to $189 for the country.  Initiatives based on research and economic development received $61.2 million in state funds from 2008 through 2011, while leveraging an additional $191.8 million from other sources to further support activity in the state.  During recent years, Arkansas State is among those institutions that have put more emphasis on securing outside research funding for faculty projects.

Commercialization centers at Arkansas universities, such as Catalyst at Arkansas State, play an important role in the commercialization of university research and progress of startup technology companies.  From 2008 through 2011, the state saw the creation of 135 emerging companies and 1,259 new jobs; however, authors of the Battelle study recommend a goal of 5,000 newly created jobs over the next five years.  The average salaries among these new jobs I substantially above the state average.  Retaining and attracting top talent within and to Arkansas are primary goals of creating such higher paying jobs.

Some of the areas of the initiative to promote technology company growth that were cited in the report as working well included the Arkansas Biosciences Institute (ABI) research funding, matching federal funding for research projects, and incentive programs to attract and promote the growth of technology driven startup companies.  ASU has a major ABI facility on campus.

The report also cited opportunities for additional investment that would directly affect Arkansas State and be enabled by furthering and expanding the initiative. The opportunities include creating more robust entrepreneurial education within universities, increasing funding for high performing university researchers, increasing university-industry partnerships, increasing internship opportunities for students, and putting more emphasis on commercialization of university research.

The complete Battelle study is available on the Arkansas Research Alliance website, http://www.aralliance.org/.

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