Admittedly, it sounded a little pie-in-the-sky at the outset. The state would spend $25 million a year to recruit "rock star" researchers and create innovation teams. Additional funding would help construct research facilities and create outreach programs statewide. In time, the outcomes of the research would be commercialized, paying dividends to the state, the Utah Science, Technology and Research Initiative and the researchers themselves. Thousands of high-paying jobs would be created in the process.
The Utah Legislature took a cautious approach to the USTAR Initiative. It clearly liked the concept, unanimously approving SB75 in the 2006 legislative session. But it didn't approve a full $25 million in funding. Instead, it authorized $15 million to recruit innovators and create research teams, and approved $4 million for outreach efforts as well as $160 million for research facilities at the University of Utah and Utah State University.
Thus far, the original investment has helped glean more than $34 million in external research grants to the teams, created two patents, led directly to a new company in Utah and lured another to relocate to the state. Eleven research teams have been created and 15 "all star" innovators have been hired.
That's an impressive track record. The Utah Legislature should take note and now appropriate the full $25 million in ongoing funds to the USTAR Initiative. It's an important investment in Utah's future.
More so, it's a modest investment considering what neighboring states plan to spend on attracting researchers, building and equipping research facilities and, eventually, getting new technology and discoveries to market. California, Arizona and Colorado, for instance, plan to spend billions over the next decade or two to compete for the top researchers and to help commercialize their innovations. Utah does not have such deep pockets. But the University of Utah and Utah State University have been able to attract some of the nation's top innovators because of their commitment to interdisciplinary research and the Utah Population Database, which is the largest and most complete database in the nation for use in biomedical research.
Few initiatives can demonstrate such progress in such a short time. USTAR is a sound investment that should pay off by improving lives and creating thousands of high-paying jobs in the future.