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Column: Georgia Research Alliance sees vast improvement

By Maria Saporta
Friday, January 20, 2012

The tide has turned for the Georgia Research Alliance.

A year ago, the public-private research and innovation organization was fighting for survival. Gov. Nathan Deal had proposed in his first budget, which had been put together by the administration of former Gov. Sonny Perdue, to slash GRA’s funding from nearly $17 million to $4.5 million.

In the end, the alliance was able to restore part of its funding and it ended up receiving $7.4 million in state funds in last year’s budget.

At a GRA meeting Jan 18, the organization’s president — Michael Cassidy — told the board that the governor’s had set aside $14 million for the alliance in his budget recommendation.

“We have experienced a vast improvement with the governor’s recommendation,” Cassidy said. In an absolute sense, it is not where it needs to be, but it is a doubling over last year.”

The governor’s recommendation includes restoring a couple of programs that had been “zeroed out” last year, including the mainstay of the alliance — the ability to attract eminent research scholars to the state’s top universities.

The governor’s budget this year includes $1.5 million to endow two new eminent scholarships. It also includes $2 million to provide state matching funds for major research and development centers supported by the federal government or private sponsors. Last year’s budget had zero dollars for that initiative.

Cassidy told the GRA board that in the past year the organization’s alignment with the Georgia Department of Economic Development has elevated its standing in the Deal administration.

“They understand that GRA serves a very important role in the state’s broader economic development strategy, and they understand that it’s an investment for the future,” Cassidy said.

Chris Cummiskey, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, also has been a big supporter of the alliance. Cummiskey, who has now become an ex-officio member of the GRA board, did not attend the Jan. 18 board meeting because he was presenting his department’s budget request, including GRA’s budget, to a legislative committee at the same time.

“We are very, very pleased with where we are in the governor’s budget,” Cassidy said. “We do have our work cut out for us in the legislature.”

Historically, GRA would receive between $30 million and $40 million a year in state funds. But its funding has been decreased significantly in the past four years during the economic recession.

Cancer coalition update

At the same meeting, the GRA board unanimously approved the legal merger with the Georgia Cancer Coalition. The coalition, which had been spun off from the alliance more than a decade ago, has now been folded back into where it began.

In the presentation of the resolution for the merger, it was stated that no money would change hands. Instead, GRA would assume the coalition’s assets and liabilities.

“The merger of the Georgia Cancer Coalition into the GRA has been received very, very well by the legislature,” Cassidy told the board.

The coalition has been primarily funded by the state’s tobacco settlement, but it also has faced budgetary pressures. Its budget this past year was $7.7 million, and the governor is recommending that the coalition receive $6.8 million this coming year.

Points of Light gets new COO

Points of Light, the world’s largest volunteer organization, has a new chief operating officer, Al Carter.
The Atlanta-based nonprofit said that Carter has three decades of broad management experience and that he will be able to help mobilize 3.5 million people to use their time, talent, voice and money to create community change.

Carter is joining Points of Light from ACA Management Group, a boutique consulting practice, where he served as senior managing director. Before founding ACA in 2006, had management positions in a variety of companies in the Internet, food service, retail and financial industries.

“Al will bring new insight and ideas to our leadership team,” said Michelle Nunn, CEO of Points of Light. “We have ambitious goals as an organization for 2012, and we all look forward to the unique background and experience he brings to the table and the innovative ideas he will contribute.”

Specifically, Carter will help lead Points of Light’s efforts to provide people with access to 500,000 projects and other opportunities to learn new skills and engage in work to improve their communities.
“Points of Light has a visionary CEO, an extraordinary leadership team and a history of leading the way in the volunteer and service sectors,” Carter said. “I will be doing whatever I can to support the accomplishment of its mission.”

Points of Light’s previous COO was Meridith Rentz, who left in September to become CEO and president of MedShare.

Bowers to chair ed group

The Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education has a new board chair.

Paul Bowers, president and CEO of Georgia Power Co., has assumed the position of board chair, had been serving as vice chairman of the partnership for the past year.

He succeeds Ann Cramer, director Americas of IBM’s Corporate Citizenship and Corporate Affairs. She has served as board chair for the past two years.

The partnership is a nonprofit organization that seeks to inform and influence Georgia leaders through research and nonpartisan advocate to improve student achievement.

“We are proud to have someone of Paul’s credential take the chairmanship of the organization,” said Stephen Dolinger, president of the partnership. “Throughout his work in Georgia, he has made education and its role in economic development a priority. We look forward to the impact his leadership will have in our work to make our state an education leader.”

Bowers has several other civic roles, serving on the boards of Nuclear Electric Insurance Ltd., the Metro Atlanta Chamber, the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the Georgia Department of Economic Development, to name a few.

Meanwhile, the partnership is holding its sixth annual Media Symposium on Jan. 20 at Georgia Public Broadcasting.

Maria Saporta, Editor, is a longtime Atlanta business, civic and urban affairs journalist with a deep knowledge of our city, our region and state.  Since 2008, she has written a weekly column and news stories for the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Prior to that, she spent 27 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, becoming its business columnist in 1991. Maria received her Master’s degree in urban studies from Georgia State and her Bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University. Maria was born in Atlanta to European parents and has two young adult children.

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