Thursday, July 13, 2000

OSU boss urges $1B in tech spending

Ohio could be left behind, Kirwan warns

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Ohio will lose high-tech jobs and businesses to other states unless government and business leaders give universities $1 billion, Ohio State University's president warned Wednesday.

        William Kirwan said college research centers need at least that much to lure businesses that feed off advances in computers and bio-technology. Though the proposed cost is very high, he said Ohio's economy is at risk.

        “Clearly, a race is on in America today — a race for the future,” Mr. Kirwan told a luncheon gathering of the Columbus Metropolitan Club. “Anything less than a major effort ensures that we will forever be behind the curve, struggling to catch up.”

        Officials in Michigan, Wisconsin, Georgia and Tex as are proposing or already spending similar amounts to lure new businesses to their college campuses, Mr. Kirwan said.

        That may not be enough, however, to persuade Gov. Bob Taft or legislative leaders to follow through with the money.

        House Speaker Jo Ann Davidson, R-Reynoldsburg, said elementary and high schools, not universities, are lawmakers' first funding priority.

        More than $1 billion a year may be needed to satisfy an Ohio Supreme Court decision that declared the state's school funding system unconstitutional.

        “I don't have a spare billion lying around,” Ms. Davidson said. “I do believe (Mr. Kirwan) makes a very appropriate point. Technology and where we rank among the states are very important.”

        Despite school funding pressures, Mr. Kirwan said he thinks the state can find a way to spend $500 million over the next five years. Under his plan, universities would use the state money to attract up to $500 million in federal and private research grants.

        Michigan lawmakers are considering a $1 billion initiative that would spur biomedical research, he said. Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson wants to spend $1 billion on new research centers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

        The University of Texas at Austin built a 100-acre research park with the help of state and private funds, Mr. Kirwan said. The Georgia Research Alliance, a private-public partnership, already has spent $1 billion and now leads the nation in high-tech job growth.

        Ohio, which ranks 32nd in at tracting high-tech jobs, has taken some steps to make its universities more competitive.

        Lawmakers agreed to spend up to $500 million of the state's $10.1 billion settlement with tobacco companies on biomedical research over the next 12 years. The governor signed a bill in June letting university researchers claim a cut of the money that might be made from their discoveries.

        While he praised those efforts, Mr. Kirwan said they are not enough.

        “We need a bold and focused agenda to leapfrog the competition,” he said. “This is about the future of Ohio. We have to invest in the well-being of our state.”


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