UA System and Auburn more like partners than rivals in economic development

Alabama Newscenter/Michael Tomberlin

There is one playing field where Alabama and Auburn are on the same side.

Leaders of both institutions shared time recently at the Economic Development Association of Alabama’s 2019 Winter Conference.

“We are different universities with different assets and together we can pull our state forward,” said Dr. Steven Leath, president of Auburn University.

Leath said Auburn is not a rival but a collaborator with UA when it comes to boosting the state’s economy.

It was a sentiment shared by Finis St. John, interim chancellor of the University of Alabama System.

In fact, St. John said the entire education system from pre-K to post-graduate training and other workforce development initiatives needs to be aligned to a greater degree today than ever before.

“We must also work together to have students better prepared from pre-K through high school,” St. John said. “If all are better, the universities are better, and the state is better.”

Why are we seeing this degree of cooperation? Because we must, St. John said.

With state at essentially full employment and population growth flat, St. John said it is crucial the universities do what they can to contribute to the solution.

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Auburn President Steven Leath, left, and UA System Interim Chancellor Finis St. John together at the EDAA conference. (Image: Michael Tomberlin / Alabama NewsCenter)

FINDING SOLUTIONS

One thing the University of Alabama System has been doing is recruiting students from out of state with the hope that a good percentage of them will remain in the state after graduation, St. John said. The graduate programs and job opportunities in Alabama after graduation with some of the biggest companies in the world is also an enticement for students, he said.

Leath said Auburn, like Alabama, is working hand-in-hand with companies to put education to use.

“If we do great science and great technology and it sits on a shelf, we haven’t done much,” he said.

For instance, Auburn is working with GE Aviation in the use of additive manufacturing processes with jet engine nozzles. It is also working on an RFID program with Delta Airlines to help improve safety, efficiency and onboard inventory.

Other areas of collaboration range from cyber security, canine protection training, the opioid crisis and agriculture, Leath said.

Leath said new facilities are under construction at Auburn Research Park. Auburn Cooperative Extension Service, community outreach and rural design studios are also key community development touchpoints for locations throughout the state.

St. John noted the use of campus innovation incubators to help foster homegrown businesses, especially in the innovation space.

Places like the well-established Innovation Depot’s collaboration with UAB or the new The EDGE at the University of Alabama, companies can take root and grow, he said.

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The Edge business incubator at the University of Alabama aims to spark entrepreneurship in the Tuscaloosa region. (Image: The Edge)