Hamilton: UA is economic engine for state

Posted: Friday, January 21, 2000

The state university is the engine that drives economic development and diversification, but it needs some gas, according to university President Mark Hamilton.

Hamilton, speaking to local opinion makers Thursday evening at the University of Alaska Southeast, was promoting the university system's request for a $16.9 million increase in state general funds.

The increase would support programs for today's jobs in teacher education, health care and vocational education. There's also a large request to expand the fisheries program.

But it also looks to the future by funding programs that would serve emerging Alaska industries such as information technology and the logistics of manufacturing and distributing goods.

Hamilton portrayed an Alaska that launches rockets, communicates with satellites, analyzes data on high-speed computers and is the center of the global exchange of ``parts and parcels'' - the industries of light manufacturing and distribution.

All because of Alaska's location in the northern latitudes.

The Internet is just the Yellow Pages, Hamilton said. You can order a book in a few minutes, but ``the real key, the real savings, the real magic is it's going to show up on your door the next day,'' he said.

``As it turns out, we are sitting in the middle of the earth. We are nine air hours from 90 percent of the developed world,'' he said.

And because of the way satellites circle the Earth, ground stations in Fairbanks can download data much more often than Lower 48 locations can, Hamilton said.

``I absolutely quivered when I discovered that. Photons have become the round logs, whole salmon and crude oil of the 21st century.''

Altogether, the University of Alaska is seeking nearly $192 million in state general funds in a $516 million overall operating budget.

Hamilton asked lawmakers for a $16 million boost last year and got $6 million, which he called an abject failure. He really wants $100 million spread over the next five years to make up for nearly flat funding in the past decade.

Universities play a key role in a state's economy, agreed Sen. John Torgerson, a Kasilof Republican who co-chairs the Senate Finance Committee, in an interview.

But he wants to see some results from last year's spending.

``We're on performance-based budgeting,'' Torgerson said. ``I haven't seen a lot of performance out of the university. How do I know it's an economic engine?''

Some of last year's increase went to employee raises, as does some of this year's request. Torgerson said he understands the university wants to be competitive in paying employees, ``but what's the end result of that to the state?''

Pattie Adkisson, who coordinates rural and Native student services at UAS, said she liked Hamilton's approach to the state's economy.

``He really looks at youth as part of when we harvest resources, we also bring along Alaskans as the people who are the harvesters,'' she said.

``I'd never think of Alaska as a place to go for math science and rocketry,'' said UAS student David Jackson.

Hamilton's knowledge of the relationship of education and industry ``allows him to educate the whole state about things that mostly escape our notice,'' Jackson said.

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