For Michigan, research means economic growth. At a time when the state economy is failing and the state government’s revenue sources are dwindling, investing in the work of research universities is a necessity. According to a report commissioned by the University Research Corridor, Michigan’s economy increased by 1500 percent because of its investment in university research — a fact that slash-happy state legislators should keep in mind as they attempt to predict the state’s financial future. Research universities are injecting needed jobs and growth into the economy, and they deserve continued support from the state.

The URC is a coalition of the state’s research universities — Michigan State University, Wayne State University and the University of Michigan — formed in 2006. The report, conducted by the Anderson Economic Group, showed a total of $1.4 billion was spent on research in the 2008 fiscal year. Of that, $880 million came from state appropriations and the rest was funded through federal money and local organizations. The URC generated an estimated $14.5 billion for the state’s economy through job opportunities and estimated alumni earnings. It also created 28 startup companies over a 12-month period — up 10 percent from 2007 — and has swelled $1.6 billion since the inception of the URC.

The study shows that funding higher education, and particularly research, is not an irrational or idealistic idea, but one that dramatically benefits the state. In addition to the potential to cure diseases and develop alternative energy solutions, funding research creates jobs and attracts employers to the state. It also brings Michigan an intrinsic respect and vitality that gets people interested in living and conducting business in the state. The opportunities provided by the URC can help foster this kind of community.

The fact that research is important is no surprise to University of Michigan students and faculty, many of whom chose this school in part because of its research reputation and opportunities. More than 1000 freshmen and sophomores alone participate in the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program, a program that allows them to spend a year working with faculty on cutting-edge research. Opportunities like this to provide hands-on learning are attractive to aspiring minds, and bring more faculty and students here.

But as it stands, the state’s universities are like oases in a desert of unemployment. The wealth this state once derived from manufacturing is gradually vanishing. Many of the tasks performed by working-class Michiganders are too easily shipped to places where labor and resources are cheaper. The value of the state shifting from manufacturing to research-based fields is hard to overestimate. Wayne State’s research on biodiesel development, Michigan State’s on biomass conservation and the University of Michigan’s on organic solar cells have all contributed to economic development by promoting jobs in alternative energy fields.

As important as it may be for the state government to spend responsibly, money is never more valuable than when in the hands of the best and brightest innovators. Both state and federal governments should do their part to support research in the university setting and the opportunities it provides.

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