The case for Governor Doug Ducey’s infrastructure plan for public universities comes down to one word: Jobs.
We’re talking about quality, high-paying jobs – the kind provided by employers that demand a trained, educated workforce. The fundamental tie between higher education and the economy is the reason business and community leaders from across Arizona have thrown their support behind the Ducey plan.
Consider: In fiscal 2015, Arizona’s three public universities were responsible for an estimated 102,000 jobs and $11.1 billion in total economic impact. The economic oomph generated by our public universities is equivalent to hosting a Super Bowl in our state approximately every three weeks for a year.
What’s more, this analysis doesn’t take into account the spin-off businesses created by university students and faculty members, nor the economic contributions of companies that have specifically chosen to locate here in order to recruit our graduates and leverage the research and development occurring on our campuses.
A simple plan
But this kind of university-driven economic engine wasn’t created by happenstance. It is the result of years of careful stewardship, investment and planning by generations of Arizona leaders. Governor Ducey’s new plan is a worthy successor to these past efforts.
Ingenious in its simplicity, the governor’s proposal would allow Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona to reclaim the sales tax these institutions pay each time they make a purchase. Across the state, this would save our public universities an estimated $37 million annually. When matched with university funds, these dollars would enable $1 billion in bonding capacity over 30 years to pay for the construction of university research and development facilities, as well as address a backlog in critical repairs and maintenance totaling hundreds of millions of dollars.
All of this, and without raising taxes a single penny!
Past results point to big payoff
Any business leader worth his or her salt would ask for a projected return on investment before embarking on a capital campaign like this. When it comes to our public universities, recent history tells us the ROI will be significant.
In 2003, the Arizona Legislature authorized an annual appropriation of $35 million to construct roughly $500 million worth of university research facilities. These projects included the Biodesign Institute at ASU, plus UofA’s Keating Bioresearch Building and Arizona Biomedical Collaborative 1 on the Phoenix Biomedical Campus. At NAU, the Applied Research and Development facility has enabled the university to expand its research in the areas of national defense and infectious disease.
The results are in: Since the state’s investment in 2003, research activity conducted at Arizona’s public universities has increased 77 percent and now totals nearly
$1.1 billion each year. University invention disclosures have increased 154 percent. Degrees awarded in high-demand fields, including key STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields, have increased 40 percent in the past six years alone.
Future economy demands university investment
Building upon these university investments is even more critical in this evolving global economy.
By 2020, it is estimated that two out of every three U.S. jobs will require some kind of postsecondary education. Education and training are an imperative for students. Meanwhile, the competition among states for quality employers has never been more fearsome.
Arizona’s public universities are the vital link to ensure we are preparing future generations for the workplace and positioning our state as a desirable location for the best companies and employers.
These are among the reasons our organizations enthusiastically support Governor Ducey’s plan. We are proud to stand in this effort with business and economic groups from every corner of Arizona, including the Greater Phoenix Chamber of Commerce, Greater Phoenix Leadership, Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Southern Arizona Leadership Council, Yuma Chamber of Commerce, Northern Arizona Leadership Alliance and many more.
What these and other groups recognize is a vote for the governor’s universities plan is a vote for good jobs and economic development. We ask that legislators who are similarly concerned about these issues join us. Let’s get this done.
— Eileen Klein is president of the Arizona Board of Regents.
— Glenn Hamer is president and CEO of the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry
The views expressed in guest commentaries are those of the author and are not the views of the Arizona Capitol Times.