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Economic development committee aims to coordinate regents, state efforts

Diane Heldt, CR Gazette –

A new state Board of Regents Economic Development Committee can be a way to better coordinate efforts to boost Iowa’s economy and to discuss more consistent funding streams for those innovations, state regents, higher education leaders and government officials said Monday.

The regents renewed the board’s dormant Economic Development Committee, and the first committee meeting was Monday afternoon in Ames. The committee, which includes regents, research and economic development leaders from Iowa’s three public universities and officials from state government and the private sector, heard at the meeting about past economic development successes and talked about their hopes and ideas for the committee.

Regent Bruce Rastetter, the committee chairman, said the goal is to build upon the foundation the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa already have in economic development, entrepreneurship, business incubation, technology transfer and job creation. One mission is to promote and reward the idea of risk-taking in economic development, Rastetter said.

Regent David Miles, the vice chairman of the committee, said the regents can use the committee to coordinate more specifically with the efforts of the state and the Iowa Department of Economic Development.

New ISU President Steven Leath said at the meeting the timing is right for more public-private partnerships because more companies are starting to look back to universities for research leadership.

“It’s even more critical that we have the process in place that makes us user-friendly and gets us out ahead of everyone else,” Leath said.

One of the biggest issues to be worked out in regards to state efforts is the question of funding, at what levels and under what structure, said Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Department of Economic Development. Creating a better business climate is not enough to draw businesses and start-ups, she said. There also must be available resources and a consistent model of funding for innovation that is tied to performance, but not tied to the political cycle, Durham said. That creates an “ecosystem” that fosters job growth and wealth creation though smart investments, she said.

“We’ve never had more attention placed on the role of economic development and job creation, but yet with no resources coming behind it,” she said. “That’s the battle we’re fighting.”

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