Published on 10/17/13

Innovation-driven economy is key to economic development

By J. Scott Angle

The University of Georgia was one of 16 public institutions across the nation designated last week as Innovation and Economic Prosperity Universities by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. The new designation acknowledges universities working with public and private sector partners in their states and regions to support economic development activities such as innovation and entrepreneurship, technology transfer, talent and workforce development, and community development.

With Georgia’s economy still recovering from the downturn and unemployment rates still hovering above 8 percent, the university’s programs are desperately needed to help launch an innovation-driven economy.

Other reports tell the positive impact of higher education is already having on the state’s bottom-line. University System of Georgia schools alone contribute $14.1 billion to the state’s economy annually. They also account for 3.2 percent of Georgia’s workforce.

Research boosts impact

University research adds even more benefit to the economy. According to reports in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Georgia Research Alliance working collectively with research universities has leveraged $595 million of state funding into $2.6 billion in federal and private investment; started more than 300 companies; and added more than 6,000 highly skilled jobs to Georgia.

The University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences is home to three GRA eminent scholars and several of those 300 start-up companies. The college figures so prominently because our research, teaching and extension programs train and support the largest and fastest growing industry in Georgia – agriculture.

Some may think agriculture is a bucolic relic of a bygone era, replaced by imported food and corporate farms, but family farms are still the economic engine of Georgia. We want to ensure they can continue to provide a safe, affordable and abundant food supply for Georgia and a prosperous economic future.

The success of our faculty, students and alumni to help secure that future is an impressive story.

Steve Stice joined our faculty as a professor in Animal and Dairy Science and GRA eminent scholar in 1998. Since then he has built a world-renowned research program, created advocates for science and trained dozens of young scientists. Students who work in his labs and learn from his lectures are blazing a trail of success in stem cell technology and animal science that will be among the greatest scientific discoveries of our time.

From helping starving people in developing countries feed themselves and learn to make a living at farming to helping wounded soldiers walk away from war injuries, Stice’s work is one of this college’s most shining examples of the power of science and the college’s legacy of serving the common good.

Stice and fellow GRA scholars, Clifton Baile and Scott Jackson, are helping build a strong bioscience infrastructure on the UGA campus that offers great promise for cutting-edge economic development in Georgia.

Another stellar example of our college’s ability to grow success is UGA plant breeder Scott NeSmith. He took a $250,000 investment, created new blueberry varieties suited for Georgia’s climate and helped grow a fledgling crop into a $250 million industry. This year, Georgia may overtake Michigan as the nation’s number one producer of blueberries because our small local producers have access to the best research and extension support.

Success grows here

Similar success stories abound in every area of the college’s programs.

Last year, the total value for agriculture in Georgia was $14 billion, up 7.3 percent from the year before. We expect the total economic impact of this increase will be nearly $80 billion, with more than 400,000 jobs created.

Many of those jobs go to graduates from colleges of agriculture. Across the nation we are seeing a surge of students in our colleges. Why? Because the prospects for good pay and opportunity in agriculture are strong.

A recent Georgetown University study of the value of a college education confirms what we see at the University of Georgia is indeed a national trend.

The unemployment rate of recent college graduates from agriculture and natural resources programs is the third lowest out of the 16 broad disciplines listed in the study. Among experienced college graduates, the unemployment rate of agriculture and natural resources graduates is second lowest out of 16.

Opportunities for agriculture graduates continue to grow.

Agriculture worldwide will need to produce twice as much food in 2050 as it does today. But, very few places on our planet have the capacity to significantly increase food production. Georgia does.

We must increase production. It is our obligation when people are hungry in this world, but it is also our greatest economic opportunity for a prosperous future for Georgia and our students.

J. Scott Angle is a former dean and director of the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

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