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Technology-based development how universities, colleges drive growth

Jim Maran

Last year, the Governor's Commission for a New Georgia created the Strategic Industries Task Force to review the state's future potential for strategically targeting growth industries of the future for economic development purposes.

Strategic industry clusters were chosen based on favorable growth rates, industry presence in Georgia, average wages paid, market opportunities and innovation potential. Based on these criteria, they determined the clusters best suited for our future were aerospace, agribusiness, energy, elder care, life sciences, logistics and transportation. These are the industries that the Gwinnett Chamber actively targets in our strategic economic development efforts.

Georgia and Gwinnett already have a base of companies and expertise in each of these areas and stand to benefit the most from their growth. The average salary in these industries as a group is $55,000 (140 percent of the Georgia average) and it is forecasted that 30,000 net new jobs will be added in these areas over the next five years.

One of the observations made in the task force's findings was the importance of innovation as a driving force in the economy, leading the way to new products and services. Innovation leads to high-wage job creation and growth in important technology industries of the present and future. The state's commitment to innovation can be seen through its investment of more than $350 million in the Georgia Research Alliance (GRA), a consortium of research universities in Georgia. As the Gwinnett Chamber partners with the state to advance and reward this type of economic development, more must be done to encourage these types of companies and industries to take root and grow in Gwinnett.

The aforementioned reasons are why the Chamber is working with partners like the GRA to connect Gwinnett businesses and government leaders with universities to generate start-ups, attract industry, enhance jobs and create wealth. This was best highlighted at the Chamber's Gwinnett Technology Forum in May featuring the state's top bioscience leaders from the University of Georgia BioBusiness Center's Margaret Dahl, the Georgia Tech Advanced Technology Development Center's (ATDC) Lee Herron and the Emory University Technology Transfer Office's Todd Sherer. GRA President Michael Cassidy led the discussion.

The GRA is hard at work attracting world-class researchers and facilities and leveraging their investment to attract new research dollars from federal, industry and private sources. This generates world-class ideas, world-class graduates and a world-class work force. That in turn sets the stage for attracting the best companies, new jobs and improved corporate profitability.

And that's exactly what has happened.

Since 1990, their efforts have led to $1 billion in non-state funding for innovation and university research, 120 new world-class scholars and researchers, and 750 high-tech research jobs created at our research universities. In addition, 80 new companies have been formed and thousands of new high-tech jobs have been created. One of the most significant products of this success was the relocation of Merial, the world's largest animal health company, to Gwinnett County.

The fruits of these efforts have been especially noticeable here in Gwinnett, where more than 1,300 high-tech and bioscience businesses already boast headquarters, laboratories, call centers and other critical facilities. In fact, Gwinnett is leading the way in bioscience growth where more employees work in these fields than in any other county in the region.

Now we must capitalize on this success.

To do this, the Chamber is supporting the creation of venture capital funds such as the proposed Bravura Bioventures Fund, a venture capital fund that invests in early stage companies, primarily in bioscience and related technologies. This will capitalize on the flow of promising technologies and early stage companies from our local research universities.

Working together with the GRA and our research universities and technical colleges creates the foundation for making Gwinnett the heart of Georgia's biobusiness industry. Creating innovative tools like local venture capital funds provide critical weapons to win the job wars of the future.

But it all starts with research and innovation.

Without a strong foundation of basic research and innovation, the commercial outcomes we all seek in the name of national competitiveness and quality of life for our citizens cannot occur. It is from a strong basic research engine - and the funding of that engine - that we will discover areas of innovation that only exists in our imagination today.

Jim Maran is the president and CEO of the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce.