There are a number of reasons why long-term investment in the State University System of Florida makes sense. Here's one: A knowledge-based economy creates good jobs, even when times are bad.
For example, a recent study by the research firm Battelle and the Biotechnology Industry Organization found that in the first year of the recession, the number of American biosciences jobs rose 1.4 percent while the economy as a whole saw jobs disappear. That's a good argument for sustained investment in a high-wage, knowledge-based economy.
It gets better. The same study found that in Florida, the number of biotech jobs rose 2.1 percent while private-sector jobs as a whole dropped 4.1 percent in that first year of the recession.
In fact, since 2001, biotech jobs in our state have grown by 18 percent, more than twice as fast as the Florida job market as a whole.
Biosciences are a key part of the State University System's New Florida plan to expand our state's economy through strategic investment in our public universities. This study indicates that such investment pays off with job growth.
Thanks to the leadership of Senate President Jeff Atwater, House Speaker Larry Cretul and other lawmakers, the Florida Legislature, in its 2010-11 budget plan, included $10 million for New Florida. While other states face enormous cuts in higher education, Florida has been buffered from further cuts and has received money for classrooms and laboratories. That's a strong endorsement of New Florida and a clear recognition of just how important our state universities are to our future.
That's why the Florida Council of 100 and the Florida Chamber of Commerce — the state's leading business organizations — support the New Florida plan to double state support for the university system over the next five to seven years. And that's why Gov. Charlie Crist endorsed this initiative — it is good for Florida now and in the future.
Investment in Florida's public universities creates opportunities in the knowledge-based economy. But it pays off in other ways, too. The Legislature's 2010-11 budget plan includes significant support for construction of new classrooms and laboratories. Through a collaborative, open and thorough process, we've identified important construction projects. These projects create new jobs now — putting many Floridians to work in the construction trade — and help the State University System create more high-wage jobs in the future, through the addition of more college graduates and increased research activity.
As Florida fights its way out of the recession, every one of these jobs is vitally important. And construction of these complex buildings will put many men and women in hard hats creating valuable assets for higher education.
For example, the budget plan includes money to begin construction of a Science and Humanities Building at the University of North Florida. This $40 million project will put 600 to 800 Floridians to work starting this summer. Those are just the construction jobs. It will also energize hundreds more in regional support jobs. Once complete, this building will help the university provide a real-world college education to more people in Northeast Florida. This project will create good jobs now and help our state generate good jobs later.
The budget plan also has funding for the University of Florida to establish a Research and Academic Center at Lake Nona, the state-of-the-art complex for medical and biomedical education and research in Central Florida. This $58 million construction project would put 800 to 1,200 Floridians to work in construction now, and give our state another powerful tool for bioscience research.
The Legislature also supports, at the University of Central Florida, an Interdisciplinary Research and Incubator Facility. This $39 million project would put 600 to 800 Floridians to work now and add an important research and business incubator to the Central Florida economy — generating new enterprises and high-wage jobs.
There are similar new buildings worth $388 million planned throughout the 11 institutions of the State University System. These projects will make a big impact now — 6,000 to 8,000 construction jobs — and make a lasting contribution in the future — high-wage, knowledge-based employment opportunities.
With this kind of sustained investment, the State University System can help drive the Florida economy. That's the underlying idea behind the New Florida plan, an initiative for more degrees and more research in a number of high-demand fields of the future — engineering, the medical and health sciences, materials technology and more.
These are the kind of jobs Florida wants to create, and this is the kind of diversity the Florida economy needs. The knowledge-based sector created jobs during the recession, and it will make our state stronger in the future.
Frank T. Brogan is chancellor of the State University System of Florida.