That was a key theme of Interim University of Nebraska President Dr. James Linder’s presentation at the 2014 Annual Meeting of the Midwestern Legislative Conference, which concluded this week in Omaha. The meeting, organized by the Council of State Governments, attracted legislators from 11 Midwestern states and featured policy sessions on a variety of topics, including agriculture and natural resources, economic competitiveness, education, health and human services and others.
Linder co-led a panel discussion on the expanding role that universities play in fostering regional economic development. The Midwestern Legislative Conference’s Economic Development Committee is co-chaired by Nebraska Sen. Heath Mello. The panel explored best practices on university efforts related to technological innovation, industry and community engagement, and the commercialization of faculty inventions.
“I was honored to participate in the Midwestern Legislative Conference meeting. As I hope I demonstrated, the University of Nebraska is doing lots of things right – and we are in a position to do even more to advance Nebraska’s economic competitiveness,” Linder said. “We will need to continue to think creatively, not be afraid to take risks, and capitalize on opportunities when they arise. If we keep working together and maintain our entrepreneurial spirit, I think great things are ahead for the university and state of Nebraska.”
In his remarks, Linder noted that universities are key drivers of economic growth. They provide, among other assets:
- Well-educated students who go on to work at leading companies or start their own businesses.
- Relevant research in areas important to their states and the world.
- New products, practices and businesses spun off from that research.
- Engagement and outreach services that support farmers and ranchers, teachers, business leaders and others.
- Healthcare services.
Linder said universities and states can implement a number of programs that can support economic development. For example, entrepreneurs-in-residence – like those on the NU campuses – can match faculty with experts who can help them take their research breakthroughs from the lab to the marketplace. Internship programs like Nebraska’s successful Intern Nebraska help keep young talent in the state. Accelerators, incubators and strong angel investor networks support aspiring entrepreneurs. Legislatures can develop grant programs, tax policies and regulatory processes that support business growth. And, long-term investment in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) education helps to develop a highly skilled workforce that is prepared to meet the needs of today’s economy.
Linder also highlighted the University of Nebraska’s Engler Agribusiness Entrepreneurship Program, established at the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources in 2010 with a $20 million gift from the Paul F. and Virginia J. Engler Foundation. The Engler program provides coursework, training, mentorship and other support for UNL students who want to start their own business.
Also at the Midwestern Legislative Conference meeting, Dan Duncan, executive director of Nebraska Innovation Campus, co-led a presentation on how the Midwest can help meet the challenge of doubling food production to meet the demands of a growing global population. Food, fuel and water – key university strengths and priorities for Nebraska – are the overarching themes for research and development activities at Innovation Campus.