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Originally published Friday, December 25, 2009 at 4:00 PM

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Guest columnist

Investing in research is what it takes to truly be a winning university

The University of Oregon Ducks might have made it to the Rose Bowl while the Huskies and Cougars languished, but Washington's two research universities bring their A game to win competitions for research dollars. These Technology Alliance leaders urge the state not to disinvest in research.

Special to The Times

NOW that the Husky and Cougar football teams are finished for the year and the Ducks are headed for the Rose Bowl, we think it is time for Washingtonians to reflect on what really makes for a "winning university."

Stepping back from the passion of the moment, you must acknowledge that victories produced by Pac-10 athletic rivalries are fleeting. Different teams tend to dominate depending on the year. You see this fluidity looking at the Pac-10 football rankings over time.

If you were to plot the standings from season to season, you'd see a web of lines crisscrossing each other as each team moves from the cellar to the attic — and everywhere in between — from one year to the next. Sometimes you're up and sometimes you're down, and so we know that the Huskies and Cougars will again enjoy winning football seasons. And, yes, a Washington team will again make it to the Rose Bowl — maybe even as early as next season.

Despite the community passion for university athletics, we think it is important to look at the Pac-10 using a completely different indicator, one that is much more significant for our state in terms of economic impact than even the most winning of football teams.

That indicator is the amount of science and engineering research and development dollars each university attracts from the federal government, industry and other sources. These R&D dollars are won, just like a football game, in competition against our peer institutions. And this rivalry is fierce.

R&D dollars pay for faculty, graduate students, equipment and laboratories for cutting-edge research. While this indicator gets much less attention from the larger community, it tells us a great deal about which universities are best at attracting top talent, creating jobs, helping their economies be competitive globally, and making discoveries and innovations that solve humanity's great challenges and create entirely new industries.

Looking at the Pac-10 conference though this lens gives us an entirely different view of the competition. See the accompanying graph.

UCLA tops the conference standings, University of Washington captures second place and Stanford comes in third. UCLA went from $355 million in science and engineering R&D expenditures in 1996 to $812 million in 2006, an impressive 128 percent increase. UW grew from $407 to $778 million, and Stanford went from $351 million to $679 million in the same time period.

If we were to look at just federal research dollars, our Huskies beat UCLA and all others. UW is the No. 1 "public" research university (No. 2 overall) in the country in attracting all categories of federal R&D money.

The middle of the "Pac" steadily grew their R&D and maintained their positions over the decade. And Cougar fans have reason to cheer, as WSU essentially doubled its R&D, from $99 million to $196 million. As a land-grant university with no medical school, WSU should be viewed in competition with other, similar institutions and in that context is performing very well.

Then we have our neighbors to the south. Oregon State grew from $131 million to $190 million — respectable, but nowhere near the progress made by WSU. And look who comes in dead last: Rose Bowl-bound University of Oregon. The Ducks may be flying high on the football field, but their R&D went from a mere $34 million to $57 million in 10 years.

So, what does academic R&D do for our region? Its long-term goal is to create new knowledge, but its immediate and direct impact is the creation of jobs.

Every million dollars in R&D creates at least seven full-time jobs at the institutions. The Technology Alliance's 2008 Economic Impact Study determined that 2.13 jobs are created for every one university or federal R&D job. This means each million dollars of university research creates more than 21 jobs in our economy.

Combined, science and engineering R&D at UW and WSU create and sustain more than 20,000 jobs in our state, a number that is bound to grow as they build upon their strengths. Compare that with about 5,000 jobs created in Oregon, using that same multiplier, as a result of science and engineering research at UO and OSU.

As technology business leaders (and UW alums and graduates of Eastern Washington high schools), we are willing to live through some down years for our Huskies and Cougars on the football field, provided they continue to bring their A game when it comes to R&D — the competition that really counts.

Our state had better bring its A game, too.

The jobs and industries these R&D dollars create are what will enable Washington to successfully compete with California, Massachusetts and the emerging innovation powerhouses in Asia and Europe. Graduates of UW and WSU help fill the jobs that sustain our state's innovation economy, and many become entrepreneurs, starting companies and creating more jobs. They tend to do this in the same locale in which they completed their education — a definite win for Washington.

In football, there is always "next year" and a team can be rebuilt in a few seasons. But in research, it takes decades to achieve excellence and a focused, sustained effort to stay on top. Sadly, the University of Oregon does not receive many R&D dollars these days as the state of Oregon over the past 30 years has systematically disinvested in its research universities.

With a large budget deficit and tough choices to be made, it is critical for the future of our state that we play it smart and protect these key assets — UW and WSU. We should not take a page out of the Oregon playbook,

We all want winning teams, but we need winning universities far more.

Jeremy Jaech, left, is CEO of Verdiem and chair of the Technology Alliance. Marty Smith is director of MetaJure, Inc., and chair emeritus of the Alliance

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