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New initiative to bolster Utah tech sector

Published: Thursday, Sept. 6 2012 7:32 p.m. MDT

Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert, Prosperity 2020, the Governor's Office of Economic Development and key partners from industry and education announce strategies for becoming a top 10 center for technology jobs and businesses on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2012. School children interested in science, math and technology stood at the podium with the governor.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah is embarking on a long-term plan to create the workforce of tomorrow for the numerous high tech jobs that local companies have begun producing.

Prosperity 2020 business and education partners on Thursday launched an effort to establish the greater Salt Lake area as a top 10 center for technology jobs and businesses. Gov. Gary Herbert said the effort will begin with a statewide planning process to identify and build on current successes and create greater collaboration in science technology, engineering and math education.

Prosperity 2020 is a coalition of business leaders who have come together to improve Utah’s educational outcomes through investment, innovation and accountability. The key goals of the program are to have 66 percent of Utahns attain post-secondary certificates and degrees by 2020, have 90 percent of Utah elementary students be proficient in reading and math as well as help the greater Salt Lake area become a top 10 center in technology jobs and businesses.

“Great jobs and businesses start with well educated workers,” said Herbert. “By bringing industry and education together, we start recruiting tomorrow’s scientists in today’s classrooms.”

The governor noted that Utah currently has hundreds of high-paying jobs that have gone unfilled due to the lack of qualified applicants in the technology field. Part of the mission of the Prosperity 2020 plan is to develop a well-trained, homegrown workforce that can fill that employment void, he said.

The point person for the initiative will be Stan Lockhart, government relations manager for Lehi-based IM Flash. He is charged with facilitating collaboration among industry and educators to give students a strong foundation in S.T.E.M. fields.

“We are truly looking for the very best practices in the world that can improve our children’s skills with science, math, technology and engineering,” Lockhart said.

The next several months will be spent looking at business, technology and education models used in other states as well as abroad. He said the ideal scenario would be to learn the best policies and practices already in use elsewhere and implement the most successful ideas into a Utah-oriented program.

“When we get to the legislative session, we want to have a fully vetted product that has clearly defined outcomes where we have clearly defined improvements that we want to make so that our children are learning more,” he explained. “It will be a process of figuring out a logical way to proceed where we can get the right policies in place, the right curriculum, the right processes and do it in a timeline that our state can afford.”

While the state makes a push to improve education and fill the tech employment vacuum, Utah’s largest institution of higher learning announced its increasing success in cultivating new businesses.  

For the second straight year, the University of Utah was No. 1 in the nation at starting companies based on research for the annual survey by the Association of University of Technology Managers. The survey ranks U.S. universities and institutions on commercialization success, including startup formation, invention disclosures, patents and technology licenses.

The report — which measured fiscal year 2010 — showed that the U. had 18 startup companies from July 1, 2009, to June 30, 2010, slightly besting MIT at 17. BYU was also among the top institutions with 13 startups, while Ivy League schools Columbia and Cornell had 12, followed by Johns Hopkins and Purdue University at 11, with Cal Tech, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Michigan all registering 10 new firms.

The report also stated that the University of Utah has had 220 startups since its first in 1970. According to the Bureau of Business and Economic Research, in fiscal year 2011, U. startups accounted for 16,600 direct or indirect jobs, $95.3 million in state tax revenue and almost $778 million in personal income.

The AUTM survey collected information from 155 universities, along with 27 hospitals and research institutions as well as a third party management company. The study showed that those institutions created 651 new startups — an average of four per institution.

The survey also indicated that the University of Utah performed favorably in numerous other categories as well, including 208 invention disclosures — compared to the national average of 113; 41 U.S. patents compared to 24 nationally; and 287 active technology licenses compared to the national average of 210.

By the numbers

• $393 million total research funds awarded

• 200 faculty inventors; 115 repeat, 85 new inventors

• 275 intellectual property disclosures

• 3,790 students involved in commercialization and innovation

• 80 technology licenses

Source: University of Utah, fiscal year 2012

E-mail: jlee@desnews.com, Twitter: JasenLee1

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