"University research is the foundation on which a science- and technology-driven economy, populated by forward-thinking individuals, is built."

David Lee
Vice President for Research


For the Record

University research is a vital
economic stimulus

David Lee, Vice President for ResearchI write this column as the final details of the federal government’s economic stimulus bill are being hammered out and it appears likely that a number of federal agencies including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National Science Foundation will enjoy major new influxes of money. Such investments in the American academic research infrastructure, which follow years of flat or reduced budgets, are welcome news indeed as they are wise investments: money spent on research is truly a gift that keeps on giving. High-quality university research affects the economy in ways that are substantial, and recurring.

University research is the foundation on which a science- and technology-driven economy, populated by forward-thinking individuals, is built. Universities are magnets for knowledge-based businesses—often, whole industries—that want to be near top-ranked research universities in order to tap into faculty expertise and resources as well as the talented, well-trained, and creative people that research universities produce or attract. Additionally, universities spawn new companies based on academic research discoveries and the technologies they engender. It is no accident that Silicon Valley and a U.S. epicenter for biotechnology both developed near Stanford, UC Berkeley, and UC San Francisco. While Georgia has yet to see the equivalent of a Genentech or a Google, though that day will surely come, UGA alone has already produced more than 100 spin-off companies since the late 1970s.

High-caliber university research boosts the regional economy in another way—as a direct result of its grants and contracts. Research funds are used to acquire a myriad of supplies, equipment, and services—often purchased regionally—and to hire professional and support personnel, who spend most of their income nearby. Thus every research dollar is multiplied throughout the local economy, as in the case of research funds from NIH; every dollar provided by this federal agency currently generates $2.36 of additional business activity in Georgia, according to a recent study by Families USA. The state’s total NIH funding of $374 million in fiscal year 2006 thus translates into more than $880 million in economic activity. Assuming comparable multipliers, Georgia’s total of $1.2 billion in research grants from all sources (2005) generates what is sure to be a very substantial economic impact.

Research universities also benefit the economy by contributing to a superbly trained workforce. Large numbers of undergraduates, for example, routinely pursue opportunities to participate in cutting-edge research of all types. Such experiences at UGA and elsewhere challenge Georgia’s best students, thus helping to keep them in the state, and they also provide invaluable training as students tackle serious real-world issues. Just as important, quality research programs attract outstanding graduate students—many of whom obtain doctoral degrees—and they often remain in the state as well, once their training is complete. Research of the caliber routinely performed at institutions like UGA would not be possible without these often-unsung heroes.

Together, these undergraduate and graduate students constitute a prodigious resource that will drive the economy of the future and ensure the competitiveness of our country and state in fields such as bioenergy, animal and human health, and agriculture.

David Lee

David Lee
Vice President for Research


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Research Communications, Office of the VP for Research, UGA

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