The University Research Corridor – an alliance of Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University – is one of the nation’s leading academic research clusters, and a driving force for Michigan’s economy. Our leadership and the economic benefits of our success are a proven winning formula that will produce future benefits for all Michigan residents with stronger investment from our state. Each year, our institutions generate a combined $16.5 billion in revenue, which is 19 times the state’s funding for the URC universities.
A recent URC report, titled “Leading Discovery: URC Contributions to the Life, Medical and Health Sciences,” examines the URC’s success in providing health care, creating jobs, producing world-class talent and driving the economy in this important sector for our state. The report underscores this innovative sector’s significant impact on Michigan – and our national status -- finding that the URC ranks first among all peer clusters in talent development, awarding more than 44,400 degrees in the life, medical and health sciences in 2015.
To be able to continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible, drive innovation, remain competitive and continuously improve the health and well-being of Michiganders, URC institutions must be funded at an appropriate level on a consistent basis over time. Failure to invest will result in Michigan falling behind other states that have implemented long term strategies that are yielding results.
Lou Anna K. Simon, top, is president of Michigan State University; Mark Schlissel, center, is president of the University of Michigan, and M. Roy Wilson, bottom, is president of Wayne State University.
In 2001, Nebraska began investing tobacco settlement funds into a Biomedical Research Fund that is still producing jobs and follow-on funding for the state. The Georgia Research Alliance (GRA), a partnership between research universities and the state’s Department of Economic Development, has driven $3.8 billion in investment, launched more than 150 companies and created more than 6,000 highly skilled jobs. Our own state has supported R&D investments in the past. In 1999, the Michigan Life Sciences Corridor program was launched as a $1 billion, 20-year ($50 million/year) focus on establishing Michigan as a center of life sciences research and innovation. By 2002 however, the annual appropriation for the MLSC began to decline due to a slowdown in the economy and the Tobacco Settlement Funds that funded the corridor were diverted to other areas of the budget.
Now 18 years later, while other states are benefitting from their long-term investments in research universities, we in Michigan have vacillated between making significant, strategic investments that would mark Michigan as a leader, and diluting our efforts, leaving Michigan vulnerable to competition.
Our research universities still haven’t been restored to 2011 state funding levels, before Gov. Snyder cut higher education funding by 15 percent. This is despite the URC’s impressive return on investment.
Even with the recent Michigan House-Senate conference committee’s decision to grant the state's 15 public universities an average 2 percent increase, funding for the URC universities remains below 2011 levels. Had 2011 funding levels simply been increased at the rate of inflation, URC institutions would have $96.6 million more funding than proposed for the coming fiscal year. The URC institutions, along with Western Michigan University and Eastern Michigan University, are the only universities that have not been fully restored.
One in eight Michigan jobs (533,000) is in this sector, and it has been a stabilizing force for the Michigan economy, particularly during the Great Recession. Employment in this sector has grown by 18.9 percent since 2000 when all other private sector employment in the state declined by 9.3 percent. And the life, medical and health sciences sector continues to grow, with more than 21,000 jobs added between 2011 and 2015.
The report also found the URC conducted $1.2 billion in academic research and development in the health sciences in 2015, representing 95 percent of all academic R&D in the sector in Michigan. The URC institutions enable Michigan to compete with other states, ranking 11th among all states in total academic R&D expenditures in the life, medical and health sciences. Michigan can and must do better. It is time to re-invest in key strategic assets, including our world-class research universities, if we hope to remain competitive with other states that have made a commitment to funding academic research.
The URC is one of the few places in the world with the capability and capacity to contribute to the next great scientific discovery that will improve human health and well-being. Just imagine what could be accomplished if Michigan made a commitment to funding these incredible assets and fully investing in the potential of our state.