Utah's Centers of Excellence Program can be considered a national model for demonstrating how centers of excellence can play effective roles, not just in research, but in technology and economic development as well.
That word comes from Walter H. Plosila, who developed and implemented the Ben Franklin Partnership Program in Pennsylvania - the largest state technology development effort in the United States."Utah has been able to mount an impressive effort over the past five years with a minimal state financial investment," he told members of the Utah Economic Development Board Tuesday and the Pioneer Partnership Wednesday.
The Centers of Excellence Program attempts to utilize technology developed in Utah colleges and universities and transform it into commercial enterprises. The program uses some funding from the state that ordinarily is matched several times over by venture capitalists, the federal government or private companies.
Plosila, who was hired to give the board an idea if the centers program was headed in the right direction and to see if the state was getting something for its money, said that in the past five years the program has helped 53 firms grow or get started.
Sixty patents have been applied for, 29 have been issued and 43 licensing agreements have been signed. Plosila said the program has assisted in the creation of 748 jobs, pumped $27.9 million into the state's economy and resulted in $3.5 million paid in state and local taxes by the people holding those jobs.
Plosila said Utah's Center of Excellence Program has the largest matching fund leverage of any state technology program in the United States, meaning that for every $1 the state puts in, other investors put in $10. Of the matching money, 58 percent came from the federal government and 42 percent from the private sector.
He said Utah's program, with Michael Alder, director, and Jerry Foote, deputy director, is effectively run and takes maximum advantage of opportunities to utilize state funds to focus on product development and commercialization of centers research.
The state's commitment to the program ranks in the middle of the programs in 46 states. "Utah will face increased competition in the same targeted technologies from other states who are investing substantially more in their centers to improve their competitive advantage," he said.
In addition to a recommendation that more state money be put into the Centers of Excellence Program, Plosila said state officials should consider initiating and adopting a state science and technology strategy that would incorporate the efforts of all departments and agencies, and the result of the work of various task forces and advisory groups, to assure the centers program is reinforced with other initiatives and policies.
After Plosila made his presentation to the economic development board, members voted to approve funding for three centers programs, including $90,000 for the Center for Inverse Problems, Imaging and Tomography at the University of Utah; $26,000 for the Center for Engineering Design at the U.; and $100,000 for the Center for Dairy Foods at Utah State University.