Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Friday, February 26, 2010

Universities’ economic development role critical to Michigan, U.S., Molnar tells panel

The director of U-M’s Economic Development Administration University Center told a congressional panel Thursday that universities are playing a key role in helping their regions deal with the economic downturn.

Lawrence Molnar, who also is president of the association representing all such centers, told the House Economic Development Subcommittee that EDA university programs at the U.S. Department of Commerce should be expanded to meet the growing need.

Lawrence Molnar, director of U-M’s Economic Development Administration University Center, testifies before the House Economic Development Subcommittee on Thursday. (Photo by Mike Waring)

“Universities are vital resources for economic recovery,” said Molnar. “Job creation and any further stimulus or jobs-related legislation should take the higher education infrastructure into strong account.”

Molnar said many universities, including U-M, were able to use funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to support not only research, but also programs designed to unleash new technologies that can generate private sector revenue and employment.

“At the University of Michigan, we have received ARRA funding to increase our ability to work with companies — many of them in the auto sector — to help them diversify with new products and new markets,” Molnar said. “Nearly 24 percent of the companies that have participated in the program for a year or more have actually added employees.”

Molnar also suggested that Congress include additional funding in research grants to help provide seed money to spur commercialization of new technologies. He told the subcommittee that the number of university centers nationwide should be expanded and that the period of time each contracts with EDA to provide services should be lengthened and simplified.

He also told the panel about a six-state project led by U-M that is helping communities in the Upper Midwest where major auto-related plant closings have occurred. Other universities in the region are assisting U-M in delivering services to those needy towns and regions.