What would you do with a billion dollars?
Last week, Representative Bob Robson , Speaker pro tempore of the Arizona House of Representatives introduced House Bill 2033 which would create a funding vehicle to enable our universities to maintain and expand our research infrastructure at that level.
At a time when the state is projecting a $500 million budget shortfall in fiscal 2014-15 and projected $1 billion shortage in the following fiscal year, some people might say that making bold investments at a time when dollars are tight is something we cannot afford to do. Yet, if we are truly committed to building a diversified and stronger economy, one that will benefit our state today and into the future, we can’t afford not to.
It was Robson’s bill in 2003 that made $500 million worth of financing available for the construction of new research facilities at our universities including the ASU Biodesign Institute, UA BIO5, Research Facilities at NAU, components of the Phoenix Biomedical Campus, and more. Economic analysis of this initial investment has shown that each dollar invested generated seven dollars in return.
These facilities and the work that occurs within their walls serve as a magnet to attract great talent. These facilities are places where our students gain the practical experience that will enable them to become our future leaders. These facilities are the place where we begin the process of discovery, development, and delivery that leads to the creation of life changing innovations that will benefit people here in Arizona and around the world.
Since the creation of these facilities, Arizona’s Bioscience Industry has grown. Jobs in bioscience related fields have increased by 45 percent, nearly four times greater than the nation. While not every one of these jobs is directly related to our university research infrastructure, all of them depend on both it and the credibility is gives to our growing bioscience sector which in 2014 again moved up in the national rankings.
In 2014, the Flinn Foundation published the second generation of the Arizona Bioscience Roadmap, a renewed commitment and a plan developed collaboratively by leaders from across Arizona. In its opening pages it reads:
“To achieve the Roadmap’s vision, five transformative steps are recommended: make risk capital more readily available to Arizona’s early-stage bioscience firms; boost the research revenues of the state’s research-performing institutions; further develop the research infrastructure at the state universities; attract industry and research anchors; and develop ties to economic partners in neighboring markets. Achieving these steps will require a profound increase in investment, primarily from the private sector but with key public-sector investments playing a necessary and vital role. Going forward, Arizona should continue its strategy to focus resources and efforts on areas where it excels.”
It is not the State of Arizona’s job to accomplish all of these things. It will take all of us, working together, reaching out nationally and internationally, and in ways that are both creative and sustainable.
Representative Robson has again offered us a catalyst for innovation and economic growth. In science, a catalyst is a substance that speeds up a chemical reaction, but is not consumed by the reaction; hence a catalyst can be recovered chemically unchanged at the end of the reaction it has been used to speed up, or catalyze. HB2033 crates an economic catalyst which when it becomes law can generate the energy and economic impact we need to take our economy and our state to new levels of success, and through its design be recovered through the economic gains it will create.
Instead of lamenting on what we don’t have, it’s time to build on what we do. Now is our opportunity, as industry and as Arizonans, to get behind HB 2033 and catalyze strategic investments in Arizona’s future.
Joan Koerber-Walker is President and CEO of the Arizona Bioindustry Association and Chairman of the State Medical Technology Alliance in Washington, D.C.