SALT LAKE CITY — During 2010 the University of Utah shattered its previous record for research funding by raking in $450.6 million, and the athletic department coffers will soon swell thanks to the move to the Pac-10 Conference.
Now, at a time when the Utes seemingly could wallpaper the Huntsman Center with $100 bills, the university scored a significant coup by landing Gov. Gary Herbert's chief of staff, Jason Perry, as its new vice president for government relations. Perry vacated his job in the governor's office effective Dec. 31 to begin working at the U; previously he also worked as head of the Governor's Office of Economic Development.
In an era when institutions of higher learning must increasingly compete for coveted research dollars, the U's acquisition of Perry's services is proof positive of the old adage about the rich getting richer because the relationships he forged while the governor's chief of staff with legislators and civil servants will ostensibly enable him to bring in big bucks for research and other university necessities.
"Jason Perry has earned deep respect from state officials and community leaders through his exceptional service and leadership," said Kirk Jowers, director of the U's Hinckley Institute of Politics. "He now brings all of that knowledge and good will to the U. In short, he is the perfect choice."
In his new job Perry, a graduate of the university's S.J. Quinney College of Law, will advocate for the U with the state legislature and, in tandem with Jowers, on the federal level as well. He bleeds enthusiasm when talking about the chance to come back and work for his alma mater in a meaningful capacity.
"The University of Utah is really the state's flagship university," Perry said. "When you think of the University of Utah there's certainly a very high educational component, but it also is an economic engine for the state of Utah. The technologies that are coming out of the university are cutting-edge and are being received so well all over the globe."
Even though the U enjoyed a record amount of research funding in fiscal year 2010, the need for Perry's expertise is highlighted by the facts that from 2009 to 2010 only $13.7 million of the $95.9 million increase didn't stem from non-renewable federal stimulus money, and the amount of research funding the university received from the state of Utah dropped a whopping 23 percent.
The bulk of the U's research funding — 72 percent — comes from federal agencies. Other significant sources of money for research include private industry (11 percent) and foundations (5 percent). In terms of who's on the receiving end of all those funds, the U's School of Medicine ($206 million) and College of Engineering ($62.6 million) lead the pack.
After graduating from law school in 1999, Perry rapidly rose to Utah's top echelons of influence through a series of jobs in seemingly unrelated fields — ranging from prosecuting Internet predators to overseeing the state's economic growth.
"Most of my career is kind of the evolution of opportunity," he said.
His first job out of law school was with the state Attorney General. Perry helped launch the Internet Crimes Against Children Taskforce that targeted individuals seeking to entice minors over the Internet, for which he received the FBI Director's Award. He also worked as a special assistant U.S. Attorney so he could prosecute perpetrators in both federal and state courts.
The next rung on Perry's career ladder entailed becoming an administrative judge at the state Department of Commerce; less than a year into the gig he became the Commerce Department's deputy director. Eventually Perry parlayed his involvement in business issues into an appointment from Gov. Jon Huntsman to head the newly created Governor's Office of Economic Development.
"The goals were pretty clear: we wanted the state of Utah to be on the top of every list for places for business," Perry said. "My task was to start making changes legislatively and also in terms of policy. … The charge was to start eliminating barriers for business, to start creating incentive programs that allowed out local businesses to grow and allowed us to recruit the right kinds of business from outside the state of Utah."
When Huntsman accepted the U.S. ambassadorship to China in mid-2009, then-Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert tabbed Perry first as his transition director and then as his new chief of staff. Perry helped Herbert navigate his first gubernatorial budget and legislative session.
"(Jason) has been critical to our achievements over the past 18 months, and I am saddened to see him go," Herbert said in a statement to the press. "But I know he has help set the stage for future success."
Despite Perry's professed fondness for the chief of staff position, the opportunity to work in such a meaningful capacity for the school he loves while leaving the governor's office between biennial election cycles was too much for him to pass up.
"This has been a fantastic job, (but) it's not one that someone can do forever," Perry said. "It is an all-consuming job where you are always, always on. I get calls all day and night, weekends. There's a lot happening in our state. I'm not saying that as any kind of negative — it's an exhilarating part of the job — but it is one of those jobs that is always on."