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Column: Gov. Nathan Deal proposes jump in research funding

By Maria Saporta

Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on Friday, January 25, 2013

At the exact same time that the board of the Georgia Research Alliance was meeting on Jan. 17, Gov. Nathan Deal was releasing his proposed state budget.

“What we are hoping for is some stability with the governor’s budget,” Mike Cassidy, GRA’s president, told members of the board, which includes top CEOs in Georgia and the presidents of the state’s six research universities.

The next day, Cassidy sent out an email to the board saying: “We are very pleased with the Governor’s recommendation as it will allow GRA to execute on our plans to enhance our support for research commercialization at our universities.”

The governor’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2014 includes $18.35 million for GRA’s core programs. Cassidy said that compares favorably to the $13.85 million it received in 2013 and the $7.4 million it received in 2012.

The proposed budget did include a mandatory 3 percent “austerity” reduction, but it also included an increase in capital funding for laboratory equipment.

The budget also reflects a shift in emphasis for the coming year.

Cassidy said GRA still views the recruitment of eminent scholars that conduct cutting-edge research at the universities “as job No. 1” for the organization.

“For the next year or two we have a surplus [of spots for eminent scholars]” partly because of retirements and attrition, Cassidy said.

“We hope we can shift some of those dollars into broadening what we do on the commercialization development side,” Cassidy said, adding that there are some missing pieces to move ideas from the research environment to commercialization.

But Cassidy went on to say that the past couple of years have been significant for Georgia’s economic development efforts to attract technology firms.

“I’ve been in the economic development business for about 30 to 35 years, and I thought this day would come. But I didn’t think it would happen during my career,” Cassidy said of the recent investment announcements by Baxter, Caterpillar and General Motors to name a few.

He went on to say that realigning GRA to be associated with the Georgia Department of Economic Development rather than with the Georgia Board of Regents could not be working out better.

GRA also absorbed the operations of the former Georgia Cancer Coalition last year, and Cassidy said that funding for GRA’s cancer research programs “continues to decline.” The governor’s budget, however, does include $3 million (in addition to GRA’s $18.35 million) to continue supporting the current Distinguished Cancer Scientists

By the way, David Ratcliffe, retired CEO of Southern Co., is chairing the annual $1.4 million private fundraising effort to cover GRA’s operations. “We need to raise about $170,000 more,” Ratcliffe said.

Emory capital campaign 

Emory University has just completed its most ambitious capital campaign — a seven-year, $1.69 billion campaign that received contributions from nearly 150,000 donors.

Emory President Jim Wagner, however, described the campaign’s challenges in an email.

“The campaign was a seven-year effort, the first three years of which was the so-called ‘Quiet Phase,’ ” Wagner said. During that time, the university was assessing and matching its needs with the interests of donors to assess the overall potential of the campaign.

“Our ‘Public Phase’ was launched at a gala event on Sept. 25, 2008 — essentially the eve of the big slide of the Great Recession! This new and unknown economic terror would have an unpredictable (but surely not positive) impact of a fund-raising campaign,” Wagner wrote. “Having just publicly announced a $1.6 billion target, we could be forgiving for wondering aloud ‘What have we done?’ ”

Emory alumni contributed more than $349 million of that total, and Emory faculty and staff contributed more than $105 million.

The campaign was chaired by Sonny Deriso, a 1968 graduate of Emory College and a 1972 graduate of Emory University of Law.

End of the road

The lack of corporate sponsorship has led to an end of the U.S. 10K Classic.

Don Whitney, founder and president of the race who also is founder, president and CEO of Corporate Sports Unlimited, sent an announcement to friends and supporters about the “great ride” and “two-year effort” to find adequate corporate sponsorship for the event that has been a fixture for 17 years.

According to Whitney, during the span of its 17 years, the race had more than 200,000 participants and generated more than $54 million in economic impact.

Whitney said the race became the sixth largest multi-sport road race in the country and was able to contribute more than $5 million to 30 local charities focused on the welfare of children.

The race also supported the World Children’s Center, a 710-acre master-planned “green” boarding school currently under construction.

Maria Saporta

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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