Little noticed in yesterday’s election was the adoption, by a 55%-45% margin, of a $500 million fund to create more Tier One research universities in Texas. It was supported by both parties – including a very conservative Governor. Their goal is to have as many top notch research universities as other big population states like New York and California.
Why? Because they believe it is essential to economic growth. Texas has made investing in their research universities a lynch-pin of their economic development policy since the eighties. And its worked. Its a major reason Austin has become so successful.
For thirties years, in a very red state, investing in research universities – almost all of which are public – has been a priority. Same is true in North Carolina. Also with great success. Its how the Research Triangle got on everyones list of successful regions.
Which raises the obvious question, “why there and not here?” Quite frankly we have better research universities than either Texas or North Carolina. And yet we don’t see them as economic engines. Think again! The simple fact is in a knowledge- based economy you want to be the place where new knowledge is being created.
One can make a strong case that Michigan’s three major research universities are our new Big Three. More important for the future success of the state than the Detroit Three auto companies. They are engines of growth now and, with enhanced state support, they can be even more so in the future.
We have proposed an annual research grant program that would provide a state match for federal research grants. Its easier for Texas to make this kind of new commitment with a stronger economy than ours. But it is no less important here, maybe more so. Michigan has to reinvent its economy to be prosperous again. The best bet to lead that reinvention are our research universities. Lets have the political courage to make the same kind of bi partisan thirty year commitment as Texas. If they can do it, so can we.