By Maria Saporta
Published in the Atlanta Business Chronicle on September 26, 2014
For the first time in its 24-year history, the Georgia Research Alliance has expanded the number of universities that are part of its member institutions.
The Morehouse School of Medicine and Mercer University now have joined the ranks of Emory University, Georgia Tech, The University of Georgia, Georgia State University, Clark Atlanta University and Georgia Regents University (formerly the Medical College of Georgia).
By becoming a member of the highly respected Georgia Research Alliance, the institutions become eligible to seek state and private funding to attract internationally renowned Eminent Scholars in targeted areas of research.
The scholars, in turn, bring their labs and research teams, and they then bring in federal and private funds for more cutting-edge research. Their scientific breakthroughs often have commercial applications and lead to economic development opportunities.
The alliance is composed of top Georgia business leaders and state officials as well as the presidents of the member research universities – including both public and private institutions. It has been hailed as a national model for how to get universities and the private sector to coordinate a state’s research and development efforts.
But throughout the 24 years of GRA’s existence, there has been active discussion as to why the alliance included only six institutions. The answer always has been that a university had to meet several criteria — such as offering Ph.D. degrees, have ongoing research activities or receive significant research funding, both public and private.
At the board meeting on Sept. 18, GRA Chairman Clyde Tuggle introduced the Morehouse School of Medicine and Mercer as the two newest member institutions.
Tuggle, a senior vice president of The Coca-Cola Co., said the two universities would bring “complementary assets” to the alliance. “We are confident that strength builds on strength,” he said.
After the meeting, Mercer President Bill Underwood said the GRA was “an important organization doing important work towards building a 21st-century economy in Georgia.”
Mercer had wanted to join GRA for years, if not decades.
“We had to develop the research infrastructure, and I’m glad that they agreed we had done that,” Underwood said. “This allows us to contribute to the state in ways that are difficult if you are not part of this.”
Valerie Montgomery Rice, who was recently inducted as the new president of the Morehouse School of Medicine but has served as its academic dean since 2011, said it was “amazing” to be part of the alliance.
“What’s exciting to me is that we will be able to have the power and support to build the capacity to grow our research,” she said.
Jimmy Blanchard, the retired CEO of Synovus, who was part of the GRA when it was first being formed, remembered how heated the debate had been over which institutions would be included.
“The conversation has been going on for nearly 25 years,” he said.
GRA President Mike Cassidy said that both Mercer and Morehouse were strong in the areas of bioscience and both had been integrally involved with the Georgia Cancer Coalition.
“You have to be at a certain level of research capability to leverage the resources that GRA brings to the table,” Cassidy said.
Since GRA was founded 24 years ago, federally funded research and development grants to Georgia’s research universities have increased fivefold, according to a report presented at the meeting.
The state’s total share of federal research funding increased to nearly 3 percent, ranking 12th. Georgia is one of only five of the top 16 states increasing its market share.
The board also elected a new chairman, Doug Hertz, president of United Distributors Inc.; and a new vice chairman, Larry Gellerstedt, CEO of Cousins Properties Inc. Gellerstedt’s father, the late Larry Gellerstedt Jr., was the first chairman of the alliance.