Katharine C. Lyall, UW System President
The University of
Wisconsin is accustomed to playing a vital role in the economic life of
Since its founding,
our university has always educated the next generations of professionals
and skilled workers. In the thirty years of the UW System's existence,
more than 700,000 degrees have been conferred on UW students. The vast
majority of those UW graduates still lives and works in Wisconsin.
For more than a century
UW researchers have been making discoveries that have benefited the citizens
of Wisconsin. From measuring butterfat content to identifying DNA sequences,
UW scientists have been at the forefront of knowledge creation. And, in
many cases, the knowledge they create leads to technology that spawns
or grows important businesses in our state.
Under the energetic
leadership of Regent President Jay Smith, two new and extremely important
developments are unfolding. First, the UW System has begun to identify
and engage in new ways to contribute to the economic life and health of
the state. And, as a result, state policy-makers and private sector leaders
have begun to recognize and appreciate the UW's expanded role.
Over the past 18
months, a group of UW Chancellors and UW colleagues have spearheaded regional
planning efforts that are already having positive economic impacts. The
UW officials, joined by business leaders, government officials, representatives
of private colleges and the technical colleges, and others, have developed:
- TechStar, a new
entity designed to commercialize the fruits of academic research in
- A training program
in computer chip design verification offered by UW-Eau Claire and Chippewa
Valley Technical College at the behest of regional high-tech companies;
- A La Crosse-area
angel investor group; and much more.
UW life science researchers
are making major contributions to a burgeoning life-science/biotechnology
industry cluster, especially UW-Madison Professor Jamie Thomson's human
embryonic stem cell discoveries. High-technology companies are springing
up in Wisconsin, particularly near the Madison and Milwaukee campuses,
as researchers spin-off their intellectual property.
As part of an Economic
Stimulus package in the 2001-2003 biennial budget, the UW System pledged
to educate an additional 2,600 students annually in computer science,
engineering and other disciplines seen as critical to the state's economy.
In response, our campuses are increasing their enrollments in these key
areas, but not as much as we hoped because of impending budget cuts.
The UW System also
pledged to establish an online job bank to match Wisconsin employers and
UW alumni. Governor Scott McCallum hailed the new program, called "Wisconsin
Jobs for Wisconsin Grads," in November at the Wisconsin Economic
All of this activity
is making a strong, positive impression on state leaders. At the economic
summit in Milwaukee, state legislators, federal lawmakers, the governor
and lieutenant governor all enthusiastically acknowledged the UW System's
It is tempting, during
this time of budget-cutting and budget anxiety, to turn our attention
away from our economic development role and focus on immediate concerns
and core programs. But it is imperative, for the long-term health of the
state, that we also stay focused on continuing to grow the Wisconsin economy.