A laska lawmakers were asked to pump $2.5 million this year into the state's economic future last week by an unlikely economic adviser - the president of the University of Alaska, Mark Hamilton.
But Hamilton is no ivory-tower intellectual. Rather, the former U.S. Army major general is a pragmatist who sees how higher education fits into business opportunities for the state. He says that the five-year plan for boosting university research could bring 6-to-1 returns to the state.
Hamilton wants to boost research and development at the university, which in turn, he says, would usher in business opportunities in the state. Not only would increased university research add jobs and bring federal grant money to Alaska, it would also help the state move away from the extraction-based colonial economy it now has.
The state's economy has long been based on Outside companies coming in and hauling out raw natural resources - oil, round logs and minerals. Most of the processing takes place outside of the state, as does most of the research on how to turn these resources into value-added products.
Hamilton's vision is to beef up in-state research, which in turn would allow companies to find new ways to process resources such as fish and timber. It's tough for timber operations to come up with new wood products if there is no place to test processing techniques.
Alaska invests only about 1 percent of its gross state product on research and development, compared to the national average of about 2.7 percent. Hamilton's request is just one small step in helping the state catch up with others in research programs.
The Alaska Legislature should embrace the university's plans to bolster research and development. Not only will the increased funding enhance the university's programs, the caliber of its professors and pride in the state's educational system, but it's a good move for Alaska's economy.
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