Community economic development advocates from local businesses, the Chamber of Commerce, Ogden city, Hill Air Force Base and Weber State University will gather in January to determine the next steps to accelerate local business growth in the Top of Utah.
The goal will be to find ways to help existing businesses grow, encourage more companies to establish a headquarters in Ogden and to help entrepreneurs build new businesses. The end result will be additional better-paying jobs for local residents.
Weber State University is one of the organizations represented on the committee.This significant powerhouse has a major role to play in local economics.
Weber State is a terrific economic engine throughout Northern Utah and is poised to increase its contributions. I am pleased to provide a high-level overview of its economic prominence and several business-related initiatives that it has implemented.
Consider the university's financial impact in the community. I estimate that, based upon its annual budget tied to several thousand employees and more than 20,000 students, the ripple effect of money flowing through the community could be valued around half a billion dollars.
In its own way, the university is the benefactor to hundreds of businesses and their numerous employees who are in some way tied to the institution. This alone should make us all happy to know we have such a large and friendly community pillar.
As to business-related initiatives that will benefit us all, note the following activities.
Weber State, under the Utah Cluster Acceleration Project, recently completed a study on the implications of health care reform for the professions of nursing, imaging technology and medical assistance. This study will now advance to the next phase where employers, Utah System of Higher Education, Utah Colleges of Applied Technology and private educators will develop a strategic plan to respond to changing employer needs.
A previous acceleration effort focused on Utah's aerospace industry, a business cluster employing more than 46,000 workers statewide. In response to industry needs revealed by that effort, Weber State created a bachelor's degree program in electronic engineering in 2010.
More than 100 students have enrolled in this program and the first graduate, Heather Wokurka, of Sunset, received her degree this month. To meet other industry needs, Weber State has also established elective areas of emphasis in contract management and aerospace/defense in its master of business administration program.
In recent months, Weber State has expanded its ability to foster technology commercialization and is working more closely with industry partners to support local business development, job creation and entrepreneurship.
As the USTAR outreach center for Northern Utah, the number of business development projects facilitated by the university has increased by more than 25 percent since April this year, up to 89 projects from 70. In the same period, private entrepreneurial funding support for those projects has increased by $500,000 to $5.5 million.
The development of Respia is a prime example of the projects facilitated by Weber State's technology commercialization efforts. Respia is a saline solution that reduces the risk of infection for patients on breathing ventilators, especially babies in neonatal intensive care units.
Thanks to Technology Commercialization Grants funding from the state of Utah, Respia underwent testing and product development at WSU that accelerated its introduction into the medical marketplace by Preventis Medical, LLC during the summer of 2011. Preventis Medical is a growing enterprise that is receiving orders for Respia from throughout the United States.
These WSU projects represent the exciting and powerful economic accelerator programs that will benefit many residents in Northern Utah. I am grateful that one of the main institutional objectives for the university is a focus on economic development.
Alan Hall is founder and chairman of Grow Utah, a not-for-profit entity with a mission of stimulating economic development through entrepreneurship.