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University presidents pitch lawmakers on value of research

 Arizona State University President Michael M. Crow addresses state lawmakers about the value of research. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Joe Martin)

Arizona State University President Michael M. Crow addresses state lawmakers about the value of research. (Cronkite News Service Photo by Joe Martin)

Investing in research infrastructure at Arizona’s public universities is essential for the state to be competitive, Arizona State President Michael M. Crow told lawmakers Wednesday.

“The thing that we do is that we have the ability to produce people, ideas and stuff,” Crow said before the House Committee on Higher Education and Workforce Development. “Any one of which can help Arizona’s economy to be more effective, but also any one of which can become a game changer.”

Crow and the presidents of the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University briefed the committee on their research and its value to the state.

Crow pointed to ASU spinoffs like Pollen-Tech, a company based out of the university’s Sky Song business park that is working to generate technologies to artificially pollenate plants, saving farmers roughly $400-$500 per acre, said Pollen-Tech CEO David Wade.

“Pollen-Tech would not exist without ASU,” Wade told the committee.

The Arizona Board of Regents and the university presidents used companies like Pollen-Tech to show the benefits of funding research and infrastructure.

Over the past decade, ASU has seen roughly $400 million invested by venture capitalists in technologies generated by its research, according to Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan, senior vice president for knowledge enterprise development.

That figure was zero in the previous 10 years, Crow added.

Rep. Jeff Dial, R-Chandler, chairman of the committee, said the universities’ research programs are of great benefit to Arizonans because of the high-paying jobs they produce.

“I think the return on investment is wonderful for the state of Arizona. If you look at what the private sector is doing via the venture capital and the research that is coming out of the universities, it’s clearly a win-win for Arizona,” Dial said. “I think because of that you’ll see the state invest in the research here in Arizona.”

Sen. Don Shooter, R-Yuma, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has introduced a bill that would allow general fund money to help build research infrastructure for state universities. SB 1378 was awaiting committee action.

Rick Meyers, chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents, said the legislation and Wednesday’s presentations are creating a dialogue about research.

“If we have an environment where we can help people get an enhanced education … it creates this whole engine of economic vitality that helps to create the jobs and at the same time you’re creating the people to do those jobs,” Meyers said.

University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart said the state’s graduates are increasingly in demand by employers.

“There’s something going on in Arizona. We’re graduating young men and women who understand that their knowledge needs to be applied in the jobs that they hold and their lives in society, as well as conquering the very best in technology and knowledge,” Hart said.

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