As published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on 10/25/2014 by Jeff Gallagher, CEO Virginia Bio
The research conducted at Virginia universities is a major contributor to the state’s economic development and a significant component of its higher-education enterprise.
Consider the raw economic impact: In 2012, research expenditures at Virginia public and private colleges and universities totaled $1.38 billion, according to the National Science Foundation. These expenditures support jobs and procure equipment, supplies and services from vendors across the state.
Research also generates innovation — new knowledge and technologies that translate into new products and processes — and gives birth to new jobs and companies.
I am honored to serve as CEO of Virginia Bio, the statewide association of companies and research institutions developing and commercializing bioscience innovation. I see the impact of academic research turned into economic activity every day as I crisscross the state and nation. It is no coincidence that the national centers of bio-entrepreneurship and commercial activity are located near the great research universities. The basic and translational research that universities perform is a spring of innovation and its commercialization contributes incalculably to the wealth, health and well-being of Virginians and people everywhere.
Returns on investment in academic research can be calculated, and the yields are significant to investors, be they taxpayers or the private sector. In the early 2000s, Virginia’s public universities leveraged $13 million from the Commonwealth Technology Research Fund into $167 million — a better than 6:1 return on investment. Today, the University of Virginia reports that it leverages state funds into federal research funds at a ratio of 8:1. In recent years, industry has funded about 4 percent of the commonwealth’s academic research, an investment of more than $55 million annually, according to National Science Foundation data.
In June, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia convened a summit on academic research. Gov. Terry McAuliffe welcomed more than 200 university researchers and administrators, industry executives and state and federal officials. The governor challenged them to think big and act boldly, because the breakthroughs that spring from university research will help drive our transition to a new Virginia economy.
Attendees heard that the major grantors of research funds — the National Institutes of Health, foundations and industry — increasingly favor collaborative proposals from groups of strong universities and public and private research centers/labs to attain world-class capabilities.
VirginiaBio members face this every day: high-tech, high-paying industries are globally competitive, and the market rewards collaborations that achieve excellence, be they private, public or mixed.
Other states also understand this. The National Governors Association advises that academic research and development is an investment, and states must be strategic to compete. How? First, ascertain the research fields and assets in which the state’s universities excel, plus emerging fields in which they could excel, and support those in targeted, ongoing ways. Second, strongly encourage universities to work with one another and private and state partners to pursue major federal and private research-grant opportunities.
Over the past decade and through today, Virginia Bio has worked with members of the General Assembly and successive administrations as well as allies across the state to envision, enact and fund public policies that support an innovation economy driven by research: the Refundable R&D Tax Credit, the Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund, state-match funds for Small Business Innovation Research awards, and the Angel Investor Tax Credit. Most recently, the Virginia Bioscience Health Research Corp. was created to facilitate Virginia public universities’ collaboration with one another and private industry on the commercial development of important research.
In the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia’s next statewide plan for higher education, I urge academic research be a priority. I encourage SCHEV, our elected representatives and our college and university leaders to think big and, as Governor McAuliffe urged at the summit, be creative and bold. Opportunity is at hand, but so is the risk of being passed by.
Virginia’s legacy of investment and vision is its outstanding research universities. I agree with state leaders who believe to secure our place in an increasingly globally competitive world, we should leverage these assets with public-private partnerships, multiuniversity research collaboration, and policies that make the translation of academic R&D to commercial reality a model to the nation.
In so doing, we can hasten the transformation to the new Virginia economy and make important contributions to our common wealth.