A long-range strategic plan to protect Utah's economic development "golden goose" is essential if the state is to take advantage of its strong research reputation and translate it into economic growth and new jobs.
Val Finlayson, a Utah Power & Light executive currently on leave and working with Utah's Department of Economic and Community Development, told those attending Tuesday night's session of the University of Utah's Science and Industry lecture series that a joint effort between state and private industry officials can be a powerful tool if used properly.The strategic plan - the blue print that spells out goals, evaluates conditions and lists strengths and weaknesses - is the key to turning good research and ideas into a business that supports the local economy and provides people with jobs.
Finlayson said too often the focus becomes the "golden egg" or end product. The "golden goose" or production capacity, the element responsible for that product, is neglected and dies. And like the farmer's experience in the fable, the end result is usually failure.
Utah has an excellent national reputation for turning out good research and good ideas. But the state fails to convert those ideas and research into local businesses and jobs. Instead, the spinoff companies tend to spin out of state, taking the economic benefits with them, Finlayson said.
Stopping this economic drain will require a strong state commitment to long-range planning and improving educational resources, Finlayson said. This includes planning that encourages local economic development even as education programs change to meet associated training needs.
Utah's personal income pattern paralleled national trends until the state opted to pursue service-related economic development in the late '70s. With the change came lower paying jobs. Utah must reverse that trend and seek higher paying jobs. Finlayson said Utah already has a strong base in the aerospace industry, computer technology, biomedicine and natural resources. Utah should build on that base and do what it can to keep expansion of those businesses in state. This should include teaching small-business owners how they can benefit and expand by providing goods and services to the high-growth industries.
Using a team approach is one way to make economic development work, Finlayson said.
Utah researchers have proved they know how to think and create. Now, Finlayson said, they must learn business skills to market their ideas and products. He said this may involve hiring people who specialize in that work, but providing the scientists with some training in this area will also help.
Scientists and researchers should help design the business plan, help find people to run the businesses and then stay close to the businesses even though they remain in an academic atmosphere, Finlayson said.