Jackson Rotary Club
May 6, 2009
Good afternoon, and thank you for the invitation to be part of your meeting today.
I want to thank President Kirk Hoffman and the entire membership of the Jackson Rotary for your hospitality. I understand you have had several university presidents speak here in recent months, and I want to commend your interest in higher education in Michigan.
As I hope you know, our state has been the focus of Hollywood’s cameras this spring, with Hilary Swank, Minnie Driver, Sam Rockwell and others in Jackson and Washtenaw counties to film the movie drama, “Betty Ann Waters.”
It seems the film crew has been everywhere … here in Jackson, to the east in Ypsilanti, on to the University of Michigan campus, and over to Dexter.
That we are attracting filmmakers to this region is wonderful economic news at a time when the headlines can be so discouraging.
That does not mean it has been easy.
The staff in the University’s very small but busy Film Office tells me they took a call from Hollywood, with someone inquiring about filming in our state.
“Does Michigan,” the caller asked, “have any coastline?”
Yes, these are challenging times!
When it comes to going to the movies, I’ll always look for something that is upbeat, or is thoughtful and has an important message. There are exceptions, but I can’t understand why I would want to go to the movies and be depressed.
I feel the same way about the current mood in our state. I know we are engulfed in an economic cloud unlike anything most of us have ever experienced. We’re all feeling anxious about what the future holds.
But we should not overlook the progress unfolding in our state, because we have some great stories to tell.
I want to take a few minutes today to focus on three areas where the University of Michigan is working to make a difference in our state: First, with our commitment to keeping the region economically vibrant. Second, with our pledge to keep U-M accessible to students and their families. And third, with our continually growing research portfolio and its benefits for the region.
And I want to leave plenty of time for questions, because I know Rotarians are a curious and engaged group.
It’s important to remember the University of Michigan’s mission: teaching, research and public service. We are placing more emphasis than ever on all as they relate to the economic wellbeing of our region and state.
Hands-on engagement in supporting economic development is atypical for U-M in a historical sense, but we are energized and enthusiastic about what we can offer our region at this time.
We believe we can do no less in this climate of uncertainty and anxiety.
We are working harder than ever to nurture a campus culture of entrepreneurship, where we encourage faculty, staff and students to push the envelope with innovative ideas for the marketplace.
This past weekend was commencement in Ann Arbor, and our speaker was Larry Page, a U-M alumnus and the co-founder of Google. Hearing him address our graduates was genuinely inspiring, as he told them to follow their dreams and, in his words, “Always work hard on something uncomfortably exciting!”
It was amazing to listen to this young man – who grew up 30 miles north of here, and went to school 30 miles east of here – talk about how he literally seized upon a dream he had, and how it has transformed the way our world accesses and shares information through the power of the Internet.
It is that very spirit of innovation and initiative that we are fueling at Michigan. This entrepreneurial spirit showed its power this past academic year with a competition we called 1,000 Pitches. It was a campus-wide initiative we hoped would produce 1,000 new business proposals from students eager to share their ideas and discoveries.
We were worried we would not receive one thousand ideas. But, in fact, we received 1,044 – hundreds upon hundreds of proposals for new businesses, inventions, and non-profit organizations, all pulled together in three months’ time and posted on YouTube.
One Thousand Pitches was a fabulous, engaging demonstration of students’ creativity and potential to innovate – skills that will be paramount as they move on from the university. Our alumni – and there are nearly a half-million of them, including folks in this room – are our best ambassadors, as they transfer the knowledge they gained on campus to communities around the state and around the globe.
For our faculty, we’re accelerating our technology transfer efforts to encourage and reward professors who move their inventions and innovations from the lab to the marketplace. In the past five years, the creations of our faculty have generated nearly 50 start-up companies – that’s a new business opening its doors every five weeks. One new company, every five weeks.
And speaking of opening doors – we’ve established a Business Engagement Center near our campus, with the express purpose of better connecting the University with business and community partners. We are committed to helping attract, retain and nurture high-growth companies in our area, and this office is a bridge between our students and faculty and the growing industries in our region. And the demand for assistance is exploding.
A second area of emphasis for the University is raising the educational level of our citizens, which is critical to the new economy our state needs.
Just last month, we heard a loud and clear message from the organization known as Michigan Future. It told us that jobs requiring only a high school diploma are evaporating, and the real growth in employment is in fields that demand a college degree.
The prosperity that any of us wants – for our personal growth and the wellbeing of our families and communities – that prosperity comes with a higher education.
Our job is to make that education possible.
Every spring, I call dozens of high school seniors who have been admitted to Michigan but haven’t decided to enroll. When I talk with them and their parents, one of their first questions is: Can I afford this? My answer is always, “Yes – and we will help you.”
We pledge to every student in Jackson County, and every other county in this state, that if you are admitted, and if you demonstrate financial need, we will provide financial aid to meet that need. We will not turn you away – it just won’t happen.
Because of thoughtful donors like Richard Marsh, we can make a U-M education possible specifically for students from Jackson. A decade ago, he set up the Marsh Family Scholarships, a fund that honors his late grandfather, Edward, who was superintendent of schools here in Jackson in the 1920s.
A Marsh Scholarship supports a Jackson student for four years, and this past year we had 11 Marsh Scholars. And this fall, at least four incoming freshmen will enter Michigan as Marsh Scholars.
We also have a fabulous financial aid program for Jackson Community College students, thanks to the foresight of a JCC graduate who moved on to U-M and graduated in 1977.
Latricia Turner understands the importance of need-based support, because she herself received aid as a U-M student. Two years ago, she endowed 10 scholarships specifically for students who transfer to U-M from any Michigan community college.
Her gift has come full circle, because one of her scholarships currently supports Monica Rasmussen, an exceptional JCC graduate and transfer student who is working toward her U-M degree, with plans to become an English teacher.
This type of support, from forward-thinking donors like Trish Turner and Richard Marsh, truly makes a difference in the lives of students, who in turn make a difference in the life of our state.
Making U-M more accessible also means working closer with the great system of community colleges in our state and making it easier for students to transfer to Michigan. This includes JCC, where we have a particularly strong partnership in the field of nursing. Our School of Nursing has a specific agreement with JCC to enroll up to 15 nursing students a year, so they can go on to complete their bachelor’s degrees and help fill the nursing shortage affecting our country.
JCC President Daniel Phelan is with us today, and I want to thank him and his faculty for working with us. Partnerships like this do so much for students on each of our campuses as we work to educate tomorrow’s leaders.
Lastly, a third area where U-M is intensifying efforts to advance our state is through our research.
This past year, the University of Michigan attracted a record-level $875 million in research support -- funding that comes into our state for research that touches all facets of our lives.
Just last week, for example, the White House named our campus an Energy Frontier Research Center, with nearly $20 million in funding to develop materials for converting solar power into electricity. This fits perfectly with our efforts to support the state in being a leader in alternative energy, such as solar power or new battery technologies needed to power the plug-in cars and trucks we need to distance ourselves from foreign oil.
I can’t talk about U-M’s growth without discussing our purchase of the former R&D headquarters of Pfizer in Ann Arbor. This is a 177-acre parcel that sits adjacent to our North Campus, and purchasing it after it sat vacant for two years is a strategic decision based on the vitality of our research enterprise.
This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will benefit our community, our state, and beyond. Specifically, it will advance our work in health, biomedical sciences, and other disciplines. Over time, this expansion of our research facilities will allow us to bring millions of dollars of additional research into the state and lead to 2,000 new, high-paying jobs. We also anticipate it will stimulate new business in the region.
In Ann Arbor, we lost Pfizer, and it was a serious blow. Here in Jackson, you have worked to absorb the loss of longtime icons such as Jacobson’s and the shrinking of Consumers Energy. We completely understand the need for communities to re-invent themselves, particularly when local businesses and industries leave. That is why we are so excited about expanding our research and the potential for the Pfizer property to transform our region.
When we talk about attracting research dollars and new industries to the state, we should not limit the benefits to U-M’s contributions. The University Research Corridor –the collaboration of Michigan, Michigan State, and Wayne State – is vital to state’s future.
Our three universities are all working on behalf of the state’s economy. A powerful example of our synergy is a project known as F-RIB.
F-RIB is the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, a half-billion-dollar nuclear research facility, funded by the federal government and awarded to MSU. It will attract top researchers from around the world who are exploring nuclear science and astrophysics. The F-RIB is expected to generate $1 billion in economic activity and create 400 jobs.
MSU’s proposal had the full support of Wayne State and U-M, and that the F-RIB will be built in East Lansing is a major coup. There was intense national competition for this project, and we threw ourselves behind Michigan State, because this facility will benefit our entire state.
So – the next time the folks from Hollywood, or anywhere else, ask if anything positive is happening in the Great Lakes State, I hope you will join me in answering, “Yes.”
Yes, as in, “Yes, we have coastlines in Michigan” – coastlines unlike anywhere else.
Yes, we have growth and potential – talented students and graduates positioned to change the face of our state. Rotarians understand better than anyone the value of building leadership in young people, and that is our mission at Michigan.
And, yes, we have a promising economy – one that looks to develop and explore new forms of energy, biomedicine, advanced manufacturing and stem cell research as the industries of tomorrow.