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Blog: Transformative Ideas and Innovations Are Key to Moving the Economy

Steven Leath, president of Auburn University


The state of Alabama and Auburn University are on the move as we work together to cultivate new high-tech industries that could only have been imagined a few decades ago. Our state is surpassing much of the country in economic development, and we have the capacity to continue rising as a national leader.

Recently, the state rose in the 2018 Chief Executive Best States business rankings, climbing two spots from a year ago to No. 17 in the nation. Governor Kay Ivey, the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama and many others have fostered partnerships with national and international companies, creating long-term economic opportunities for citizens across our state. Going forward, we will continue to rise together because the state has prepared itself for growth opportunities, particularly in high-tech industries and advanced manufacturing.

At Auburn, we are setting in motion an ambitious vision for the future with a commitment to “Inspire. Innovate. Transform.” We are growing as a partnership university and empowering students, faculty and entrepreneurs to develop transformative ideas and inventions that improve lives. Auburn contributes $5.4 billion to the state economy each year, and we anticipate increasing that amount even more as “Auburn Powers Business” in Alabama.

Our nation is looking for next-generation technologies in areas such as sensitive cyber security, additive manufacturing, health sciences, military defense, agriculture and bioscience systems, robotics and radio frequency identification. Auburn is working to meet that demand and to produce new technologies to help traditional Alabama industries increase yields and profits.

We plan to hire 500 faculty by 2022, targeting a broad range of disciplines, strengthening Auburn as a world-class academic, research and service university. It’s a key component of a comprehensive strategy to expand our education, research, partnership and economic development initiatives. Our transformational commitment will facilitate scholarship growth, improve faculty/student ratios and enhance our partnership capabilities.

Already underway is our new Presidential Awards for Interdisciplinary Research, which will provide $5 million in the next three years to support Auburn researchers. We have established a new Presidential Graduate Research Fellowship program to provide $3 million in support of research and innovation by Auburn doctoral students. We also seek to kick start breakthroughs with a LAUNCH innovation program that advances the commercial potential of technologies and other intellectual properties developed at Auburn. Already, concepts are being seen in disciplines ranging from MRI contrast technology and pharmaceuticals to 3D printing and autonomous vehicles.

Auburn undergraduates engage and lead at extraordinarily high levels, too, as they explore everything from mobile apps to cyber currency to health care products. To assist them, we have opened the Tiger Cage Accelerator and Incubator where student-led startups are provided collaborative workspace and access to faculty and alumni mentors. Our Harbert College of Business recently awarded funding and services for its Tiger Cage student business plan pitch competition, with this year’s winner being a group of students who developed an electrotherapy garment for rehabilitations of various injuries.

A key aspect in our economic development efforts is the Auburn Research Park, which is creating opportunities for convergence in research, innovation, entrepreneurship and the arts. The Auburn Business Incubator, located in the park and operated by the Auburn Research and Technology Foundation, assists start-ups and early stage companies by linking them to a network of services from the university and other sources. Among the many tenants are Northrup Grumman, Auburn’s Food Systems Institute, the university’s Office of Innovation Advancement and Commercialization and East Alabama Medical Center, which partners with the university on a 3T clinical MRI and a 7T research MRI.

Auburn has a strong partnership with GE Aviation, which uses additive manufacturing to make jet engine nozzles at its facility near the university. Our Samuel Ginn College of Engineering, in partnership with NASA, created a new National Center for Additive Manufacturing Excellence and soon will open the newly renovated Gavin Engineering Research Laboratory featuring dedicated space for additive manufacturing research. Last year, GE chose Auburn as one of only eight universities from around the world to participate in the GE Additive Education Program.

Also attracting companies is our RFID (radio frequency identification) Lab that is becoming a go-to research facility for businesses around the world as we use microchips to revolutionize the way they manage and track inventory.

In the northern part of the state, Auburn’s Huntsville Research Center connects our research capabilities with the needs of Huntsville’s government agencies and industries. The center has developed partnerships with the U.S. Army, NASA, Missile and Space Intelligence Center, Missile Defense Agency and the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, among many others.

Auburn programs make broad societal impacts in addition to economic impacts. Our College of Veterinary Medicine has produced a novel gene therapy for the treatment of GM1 gangliosidosis, a devastating neurodegenerative disease found in animals and humans. Plus, our National Center for Asphalt Technology is making our roads safer and longer lasting. Read more about Auburn’s impactful programs on our “Lives Are At Stake” site.

Auburn and the state of Alabama are on the move and open for business as we collaborate to create extraordinary science, design and technology-based advancements that deliver practical, life-changing solutions to pressing regional, national and global needs.

If you are interested in partnering with Auburn, connect with me @AuburnPrez on Twitter and Steven Leath on LinkedIn.

Steven Leath is president of Auburn University.

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