Utah Business Staff

August 1, 2012

One of the ways that we’re creating those ongoing interactions and connections is through incubators. Our friends in Ogden have recently put together an incubator accelerator for new job creation in the web app space. Our friends at Utah Valley University have put together an 18,000 square foot incubator with the help of a federal grant. Dixie College also has an incubator. These incubators are actually the places where existing industry and entrepreneurs connect with higher education and use the students through experiential learning opportunities to say, are these folks able to act as catalysts for job growth? So all of that is going on and we’re excited about that.

So the question is: Where do we go from here? I believe right now that I can find the students to actually help us incubate these new technologies and to incubate these startups. We have no problem finding them, but I do recognize that when they come to us, sometimes they come to us in the public sector because the companies around here, whether it’s Adobe, Oracle, Goldman or whomever, have said, well, they’re not quite good enough for us. So I bring them into my experiential learning programs and teach them the things that they need so that next year, after they graduate, they will actually be ready for those high growth employers in the state.

The good news is we’ve met the metrics that we put in place for ourselves, and several people have said we’ve got to know what we’re measuring. We’ve got about 10 sub-measures below this innovation capacity measure. We’ve met those metrics through the first six years, and now we’re plotting our strategy for accelerating those key metrics. Our key metric is high wage job creation and the tax revenues that emanate from what I call “GDP per capita.” Because as the average GDP of our average working citizen increases, we actually have the tax revenue that we can put into K–12, higher ed, applied technology colleges, any of the public education system.

Another goal is that our metropolitan area will rank in the top 20 for concentration of science and engineering occupations. What is it going to take to get us there?
WINTERS: The state has a strategic plan for science, technology, innovation and talent. This was a plan contracted to Patel Technology Partnership, which has identified where our strengths are in the high-wage jobs and industry areas. It does an incredibly thorough crosswalk between where our educational excellence is versus where our industry is. It looks at publications and citations and patents and business growth.

It will be coming out probably later this summer. It identifies a number of areas that need to be addressed and offers some examples from other states that have had these kinds of problems and how they have approached some of them.

Obviously, they all take money but there is a great study that shows—and this was specific to public ed—that just because you throw money at a problem doesn’t solve it. So if we continue to do the same things we’ve always been doing, we’re going to continue to get the results that we have gotten so far.

It identifies USTAR as a very strong piece. One of the stronger recommendations that comes out of this report is this alignment of university and industry. And we don’t rate very well in the ability for our universities and our business community to interact in a meaningful way, where universities are actually addressing the needs of industry, specifically whether that is technical problems or is in talent production.

HOWE: With each of our institutions and organizations, I think it’s a matter of leadership. At the University of Phoenix, we just had the celebration of our 23rd graduating class here in Utah. And the individuals who started with this class probably started at the beginning of the Great Recession. And for the first time in my experience with the university—I’ve been here since we started in 1984 in Utah—there is a real sense of individuals who think, “I got my degree but is there anything for me? I’m not getting a job. I’m not getting the reward for all that work that I put in.”

It’s really going to take leadership on each of our parts to reinvent ourselves. Are we relevant today? At the University of Phoenix, we don’t have any tax money or anything along that line. Our survival is based upon meeting the needs of the clientele that’s out there. It’s going to take basically a reinvention of ourselves to make sure that we do communicate with industry, to understand that we cannot do business the way we’ve been doing it for the past 10 years and just expect that because we are a university, individuals are going to come enroll in our institution. There’s already a great degree of skepticism out there in Utah and across the country about going to college. So it’s really going to take a matter of leadership on each of our parts to reexamine our own institutions and make sure we are relevant for the future.

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