More than 40 leading business leaders recently urged the Utah Legislature to restore $6 million in funding cuts to the Utah Science Technology and Research (USTAR) initiative. The group went further to encourage the Legislature to increase its investment to this critical program by $10 million, in either one-time or ongoing funding, as we now have a unique opportunity to take advantage of Utah's position and maximize the benefits of USTAR for the Utah economy.
USTAR is a commercialization-focused research initiative that recruits world-class innovators to Utah. These researchers and inventors are at the leading edge of creating new technologies, which will in turn generate new start-ups, technology companies and high paying jobs. Through a regional technology commercialization outreach program, USTAR helps expand the reach of the program to every corner of Utah.
Funding USTAR is a long-term strategic move to ensure Utah is well positioned in the new innovation economy. It is also a strategy that helps in so many other ways. USTAR increases the status and research infrastructure at our universities, helping our students learn new technology as it is developed. USTAR helps diversify rural economies by empowering local entrepreneurs to connect with new innovations and business opportunities. And, USTAR puts Utah on the map as a serious player in innovation, research and technology.
In its first five years, USTAR has already gained national recognition. The Brookings Institution recently called USTAR "not just the state's primary innovation driver, but a national best practice." Both Idaho and Nevada are actively working to create new research initiatives modeled after the Utah initiative.
More importantly, the program is ahead of initial projections in every significant category, including new patents, job creation, company formation and grant wins. In particular, USTAR has brought more than $182 million dollars of new research funding to Utah and created an estimated 2,900 new jobs.
But budget cuts over the last three years, due to the recession, are threatening to stall USTAR's momentum. Without restored funding, USTAR will not be able to recruit any new world-class researchers. At a time when other states continue to cut research funding, Utah has the opportunity to take advantage of a "buyers market" and attract talent to Utah that will help both higher education and technology innovation.
Not only will this opportunity to recruit new researchers be lost, but also because funding has been cut below initial levels set in 2007, not all commitments to current researchers will be able to be fulfilled if diminished funding continues. This risks sending a negative message to the rest of the nation and potential future research recruits at a time when the program is gaining momentum and national accolades.
Even with so many pressing needs competing for state funding, such as education and infrastructure, business leaders agree that funding USTAR should be a top priority. Why? A diverse Utah economy, with a foundation of high quality technology jobs, will help us pay for everything else.
The Utah business community urges Utah's elected officials to show long-term vision and invest now in a program that will make Utah a leader in technology-based business over the next decade.
A. Scott Anderson is Director, USTAR Governing Authority, and President and Chief Executive Officer, Zions First National Bank