Economic Impact of Science Foundation Arizona

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Investing in Arizona’s technology sector has a tremendous impact on the State’s economy according to a new report commissioned by Science Foundation Arizona. Margaret Mullen, Chief Operating Officer for SFAz, shares the report’s findings.

Ted Simons: A new report shows that science foundation Arizona returns over four dollars for every dollar it receives and invests in research grant programs. The group commissioned the report from the Battelle Technology Partnership. Here to talk about the study and its findings is Margaret Mullen, chief operating officer for science foundation Arizona. Nice to see you. Thanks for joining us.

Margaret Mullen: You too, nice to be here.

Ted Simons: Battelle Technology Partnership, who are these folks?

Margaret Mullen: Battelle Technologies is the largest nonprofit research entity in the world. They do a lot of studies for the state of Arizona, so when science foundation was formed in 2006 and our commitment to the governor and legislature was we'd have an independent entity review all of our work, Battelle was hired to produce these reports. Last year we did two report. When we were given the first $25 million from Stardust, he said I'd like for you to also do what he called a report card to see how Arizona is doing with its peer states in growing its technology sector. This year we combined those reports so that you could have a better understanding of not only what science foundation is doing, but how it's impacting the entire sector.

Ted Simons: And how is it impacting, how is Arizona doing?

Margaret Mullen: In a couple of areas we're doing well. And aerospace and defense we're doing well, in biosciences we're doing well and in chip making what we call I.T. industries we're doing well. Unfortunately in education we're not. And we're having a hard time growing companies here. As you heard from the previous speaker, we don't have a well enough educated work force. Our education investments are having a positive impact on that. We've had over 300,000 students in our science and math programs over the last five years. But we still have a long way to go.

Ted Simons: What's the problem? What's the hold-up with education? Are we talking funding for the most part?

Margaret Mullen: My answer to that would be no, we're not talking funding. And I'm not saying you don't need more funding, that's not my area of expertise. In science and math, the problem is we have very few teachers that are experienced in science and math, less than 80% of our teachers have the skill sets to teach modern science. So we're beginning programs that will put retired workers in the classroom, or current engineers and mathematicians, people who want to bring modern science and math to kids. And to make it fun. To get them to understand that it's about teamwork and problem solving, it's not about some geeky thing you don't really want to do.

Ted Simons: And the problems you suggested, the challenges regarding growing firms here in Arizona, that probably won't get better until the education gets better? Does that look to be the case?

Margaret Mullen: I've been in economic development in Arizona for 30 years. The number one issue with every prospect I ever talked to was our education system. And that has not changed in 30 years.

Ted Simons: K-12 and higher?

Margaret Mullen: K-12 and higher. Our universities have improved in research and development but we're still not creating enough high technology workers, we're not generating enough Ph.D. and masters degrees in math, science, and engineering, and we've got to make significant investments in those areas. And science foundation is doing that, but not fast enough.

Ted Simons: Why not fast enough?

Margaret Mullen: Money. It's expensive at that level. And unfortunately our funding from the state was in the budget shortfall, we're now raising funding from philanthropic efforts to increase particularly graduate research fellows.

Ted Simons: Talk about the state funding. 25 million to begin with, or was it cut to 25 million -- 25 million then maybe cut to 10 and now it's at --

Margaret Mullen: It was -- we've had no funding in the last two years. In 2010 the governor gave us $10 million of federal stimulus money for specific projects. And that was the last state funding we've had. So our investments the last year have been from private donors.

Ted Simons: The report seems to indicate that 1,700 some-odd full and part-time jobs through 2011 directly through science foundation Arizona?

Margaret Mullen: Absolutely. 1776 jobs we've created 22 high-tech companies, that's spinning technology out of the universities into companies. And it takes a neutral partner to sort of force that to happen.

Ted Simons: So what happens when you bring this report -- who gets this report? Who do you want to see get this report?

Margaret Mullen: It has gone to all of our donors, it's gone to all the legislators, it has gone to the governor's office. We many use it to raise additional funding after the next election, we'll begin talking to the state if the economy improves enough. I believe there will be additional support for improving education as well as improving the research and development investments.

Ted Simons: For those who aren't familiar with science foundation Arizona, what is it, what does it do?

Margaret Mullen: We are a 501(c)3 nonprofit formed by the business community, in 2006 to diversify Arizona's economy. We are different than any entity in the United States. We invest only in research and education, and we do it through external peer review. Could you call me and say, I have a great friend who wants to start this company, but if it can't compete with the best of the best from around the world, it will never be funded by us. And what the Universities will tell you is, our peer review and oversight has elevated their research dramatically. That's why we've raised almost $300 million in industry and federal funding to match our grants. It's a significant contribution to the state and it's a big asset.

Ted Simons: Is there a way for everyone to take a look at this Battelle report?

Margaret Mullen: Absolutely. It's on our website. WWW.SFAZ for science foundation,.ORG.

Ted Simons: Look for the Battelle technology partner survey report.

Margaret Mullen: And it's on the home page. You can get the summary or the entire report.

Ted Simons: Even us non-scientists will find it.

Margaret Mullen: You'll love it

Margaret Mullen:Chief Operating Officer, Science Foundation Arizona;

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