The University of Arizona

Land-Grant UA Drives Economic, Community Development

By Alexis Blue, University Communications | August 30, 2012
The UA Tech Park houses 53 companies, employs about 7,000 people and has an economic impact of about $3 billion a year through its companies and activities.
The UA Tech Park houses 53 companies, employs about 7,000 people and has an economic impact of about $3 billion a year through its companies and activities.

The UA promotes economic and community development by preparing students for the workforce, providing jobs and much more.

Over the years, more than 500 companies have been launched by graduates of the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship in the Eller College of Management.
Over the years, more than 500 companies have been launched by graduates of the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship in the Eller College of Management.
The Eller Economic Development Program offers education and consulting for business owners in South Tucson.
The Eller Economic Development Program offers education and consulting for business owners in South Tucson.
Offered through UA Cooperative Extension, Arizona 4-H programs develop young leaders who have the chance to participate in activities ranging from raising livestock to building robots.
Offered through UA Cooperative Extension, Arizona 4-H programs develop young leaders who have the chance to participate in activities ranging from raising livestock to building robots.

When the Morrill Act establishing the nation’s land-grant universities was signed in 1862, one of the charges of those universities was to support economic and community development in their respective states.

Now, 150 years later, those land-grant institutions, the University of Arizona among them, continue to be critical drivers of economic and community development, ever evolving to meet the changing needs of those they serve.

The UA impacts economic and community development in many ways – by educating and preparing students to be productive members of the workforce, by developing new technologies to improve people’s lives, by partnering with economic development organizations throughout the state and by offering programs, through outreach and extension, to support community and economic development in Arizona and globally.

Consider the following examples, which represent only a sampling of the University’s many contributions.

Growing new businesses

Over the years, more than 500 companies have been launched by graduates of the McGuire Center for Entrepreneurship in the Eller College of Management.

The same college is home to initiatives like the Eller Economic Development program, which provides education and consulting to local small business owners, primarily in South Tucson, and Eller Executive Education programs, which provide customized professional development opportunities to local business executives. (Read more about the Eller Economic Development program in the UANews article, "UA Launches South Tucson Economic Development Program.")

"Programs such as Eller Executive Education help keep our workforce’s skills sharp, while Eller Economic Development is focused on supporting entrepreneurs in our community," said Eller College Den Len Jessup, who also serves as the Halle Chair in Leadership.

Eller also recently partnered with the town of Sahuarita, Ariz. to explore ways to promote entrepreneurship, and thus economic development, in a community that’s seen significant growth in the past 10 years.

"At Eller, we interpret the land-grant mission as providing access to a college education for the citizens of our state, and the dissemination of research results in ways that help society and Arizona’s economy," Jessup said.

Developing community leaders

Outreach programs that support community and economic development is abound at the UA, for both youth and adults.

The College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the original steward of the University’s land-grant mission, provides a vast array of Cooperative Extension resources, such as 4-H youth development programming and Project CENTRL (The Center for Rural Leadership), an intensive two-year program that prepares leaders to serve rural communities in Arizona. (Read how one woman's experience with Project CENTRL put her on the path to becoming mayor in the UANews article, "UA Project CENTRL a 'Life Changing Experience.'")

Those programs have evolved to meet the changing needs of communities since the signing of the Morrill Act, which took place in a time when economic success was largely dependent on investment in agriculture.

“For 4-H, it’s not just about raising chickens and pigs anymore,” said Ed Martin, associate director of programs for Cooperative Extension. “They do science and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) and robotics, too.”

Shaping policies and infrastructure

UA students, armed with their degrees from numerous disciplines, have had significant impacts on public policy and infrastructure in Arizona and beyond.

Graduates of the James E. Rogers College of Law, for example, have played a key role in developing Arizona’s legal infrastructure since the college’s founding in 1915.

"Arizona was still a young state in a rugged, relatively undeveloped region of the country. Since then, many of our more than 7,700 graduates have been instrumental in building the legal infrastructure of the American West and have strengthened its communities by assuming the mantle of civic and professional leadership," said Lawrence Ponoroff, dean of the college.

The University also provides private and public-sector decision-makers with valuable information on economic, demographic and business trends in Arizona to help them make informed decisions that impact the community. This is done largely through the UA’s Economic and Business Research Center, run by Marshall Vest in the Eller College of Management.

“The research we do helps decision-makers in cities, counties and the state make good decisions, as well as the owners of businesses,” Vest said.

Impacting the economy through research

In 2011, nearly $1 billion was infused into Arizona’s economy as the result of research conducted at the state’s three public universities, according to the Arizona Board of Regents annual research report, released in June. The UA had more than $600 million in research activities last year, said Leslie Tolbert, UA senior vice president for research.

Among the University’s major research contributors is the UA College of Medicine, which serves as a powerful economic engine for the state and region, generating millions of dollars in research funding and providing thousands of stable employment opportunities.

Delivering innovations to market

Technology has become increasingly important to economic development, and with that in mind, the UA recently established Tech Launch Arizona, an entity designed to consolidate the University’s efforts to commercialize technologies and discoveries made at the UA. (Read more about Tech Launch Arizona in the UANews article, "New Center to Advance Movement of Ideas to Market.")

The Arizona Board of Regents annual research report notes that 30 start-up companies were formed by the UA in the past five years. About 75 percent of those companies are located in Arizona, and UA personnel play a significant role in two-thirds of them.

“Traditionally, the land-grant mission was expressed in the work of the College of Agriculture and the College of Engineering and Mines, and then in the work of the Arizona Health Sciences Center, but in the last 20 or 25 years, we’ve become very active in our work in science and technology,” said Bruce Wright, UA Associate Vice President for University Research Parks.

The UA Tech Park houses 53 companies, employs about 7,000 people and has an economic impact of about $3 billion a year through its companies and activities. It's also home to the Arizona Center for Innovation, a technology business incubator that has helped start up 65 companies since it was established in 2003. 

Moving forward

As the national economy has evolved, so has the UA’s interpretation of the land-grant mission and the ways in which faculty and students work to fuel the economy and invigorate communities as part of that mission.

All of the examples provided above, along with many others, are part of a collective effort on the part of the University to drive development forward with an eye toward the future.

“We’re seeing the evolution of what I would call the 21st-century land-grant university,” Wright said. “What we do at the UA Science and Tech Park, what we do at the Arizona Center for Innovation, what we’re doing in technology transfer, innovation and commercialization – all of that is part of what we’re trying to be in terms of a 21st-century land-grant institution.”