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Delaney to pitch $1.75 billion investment in ‘new economy’

by Karen Brune Mathis

by Karen Brune Mathis
Managing Editor

University of North Florida President John Delaney said he will take his call for a $1.75 billion investment in the state’s university system, specifically for creation of “knowledge” jobs, to the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Delaney is scheduled to speak during the Chamber’s quarterly Cornerstone lunch on Tuesday. He said this week that the requested public investment, which is double the current funding, would generate more college degrees, business startups and research in science, technology, engineering, math and medicine, along with related areas.

“It’s a game changer,” Delaney said. “I think we’ve got to pick our future and I can’t see another place for the state to invest to get that kind of future.”

The plan is called “New Florida: Building Florida’s Knowledge Economy.” The Board of Governors of Florida’s 11 state universities, including UNF, issued the initiative in late January.

It was endorsed by Gov. Charlie Crist, but faces funding challenges in a struggling state economy.

Delaney said the system’s annual budget is about $2 billion for the 11 universities. The plan is to add $350 million a year to that budget for five years. He said Crist proposes to phase in the funding over a longer term.

Delaney, who served as interim chancellor of the state system from September 2008 to September 2009, said possible revenue sources include funding from the state’s potential receipts from gambling and offshore drilling.

Delaney said also that state universities have the authority to increase tuition fees. Moreover, he said that state revenues will increase as the economy rebounds.

“Eventually, growth will come back,” he said. Until then, “you skim some of the first part to go into higher education. It’s the equivalent of priming the pump.”

Jerry Mallot, executive vice president of the Chamber and president of its Cornerstone Regional Development Partnership, said the plan “is a great topic for a Cornerstone luncheon and one that everybody ought to hear.”

Crist has proposed a $100 million increase in the 2010-11 Florida budget for state universities to build research and education capacity in the STEMM areas. Delaney said he thinks some of the funding will pass the Legislature.

However, the state faces a $3 billion budget deficit. If legislators had a normal growth year, he said, “they would be funding it.”

Instead, “we are plugging more holes than we have fingers,” he said.

The New Florida document calls for a vision to create a new Florida economy based on knowledge and innovation. Now, the state’s economy is dependent on agriculture, tourism and growth, the plan said.

“Our economy has been built on an assumption that there will always be people to buy more homes and hamburgers and newspapers than the year before,” said Delaney, who also served two terms as Jacksonville’s mayor, from 1995 to 2003.

The New Florida plan reported that per-person income growth in the state has fallen to No. 45 in the country and that the income gap between the most affluent and the poorest Floridians is among the widest in the country and continues to grow.

The plan also reports a double-whammy of the state’s high unemployment rate and that half of the state’s jobs pay wages “too low for families to get by.”

According to the plan, in addition to the STEMM fields, the investment would focus on finance, insurance, professional services, health care and education.

Each university would fulfill its own mission, whether in research, granting degrees or both. The money would be distributed by a formula, with half of the new funding focused on STEMM-targeted degrees and the other half on graduates with degrees needed for regional economic development, such as nursing, business, architecture and other professional categories.

The plan reports that the average income is $46,277 for people with a bachelor’s degree and $61,014 for those with advanced degrees.

The five-year outcomes would include 25,000 additional degrees a year, up to 2,500 faculty to attract another $500 million annually in research funding, 250 new patent applications, up to 10 business startups each year and up to $20 million in new licensing revenue each year.

State universities would have to meet their goals, Delaney said. “They would have to hit the numbers.”

The Cornerstone meeting is scheduled at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Hyatt. For information, call the Chamber at 366-6600, extension 7601.

kmathis@baileypub.com

356-2466

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