Government Relations

Official Opening of the Nanotechnology Center for Collaborative Research & Development, UW-Platteville

Remarks by UW System Board of Regents President Mark J. Bradley

December 6, 2008

Thank you.  I am very happy to be here.  Let me tell you why.

It all begins with a song.  Do you remember that famous song from the 1960s written by Carol King?  She sang, “I feel the earth move under my feet…”

Whether they are singing about it or not, I think most Americans feel the earth has moved under their feet.  It has moved in virtually every important sphere of life – economic, global, environmental, and civic.  We know the world is being dramatically reshaped by scientific and technological innovations, global interdependence, cross-cultural encounters, and changes in the balance of economic and political power.

In its paper on College Learning for the New Global Economy, the Association of American Colleges & Universities said: “These waves of dislocating change will only intensify.  The context in which today’s students will make choices and compose lives is one of disruption rather than certainty, and of interdependence rather than insularity.”  In fact, most experts agree that today’s transformation to a New Economy is equivalent in scope and depth to the emergence of the factory economy in the 1890s and the mass-production economy in the 1940s and 1950s.

Since the end of World War II, the United States has been the world leader in innovation and high-value added production.  But now a growing share of that activity is at play in global competition.  Three factors drive this new global competitiveness challenge.

First, technology has made it possible for more work to be done at a distance.  As Tom Friedman pointed out in his book, The World is Flat, an increasing share of work can be digitized or conducted by telephone, so that a place like Bangalore, India, is now functionally as close as the neighborhood bank or insurance office for routine activities that do not require face-to-face interaction.

Second, other nations have woken up to the opportunities of attracting internationally mobile investment.  Many developing nations have established the infrastructure, skilled workforce, and business climate to become attractive locations for this work.  Indeed, states or provinces in many other countries are implementing exactly the same kinds of economic strategies that states in our country have long practiced.

Finally, the efforts of developing nation are greatly aided not only by wage rates that that are on average 20 percent of U.S. rates, but also often by a host of unfair trade practices, including high tariffs and artificially low exchange rates.

Here in the Midwestern region of our country, we know first hand that the forces that are driving the New Economy—new industries and occupations, globalization, the IT revolution, competition, and innovation—are also driving a reordering of the economic geography.  The last time the United States underwent a major economic transformation, after World War II, there was a similar reordering as regional labor, capital and consumer markets transformed into national ones.

Richard Longworth, in his book Caught in the Middle, points out that the “new economy” of the 1950s and 1960s faced its own “globalization” challenge, but in the 50s and 60s companies weren’t moving to China.  They were moving to the low-cost Southeastern United States.  The completion of the U.S. Interstate Highway System and the emergence of jet travel, coupled with the mass adoption of air conditioning, electrification, and telephone service, opened up the low-wage South as an attractive location for many U.S. companies.

Just as there are today, there were large income differentials, making relocation to the South an attractive way to cut costs.  As a result, many Northern and Midwestern industries flocked to the South, leaving behind shuttered factories, devastated communities and unemployed workers.  Then, as now, low-wage regions established economic development programs and offered substantial incentives to lure industry to their borders.

In many ways, the United States today is experiencing a global transition that mirrors the regional transition the country experienced in the 1960s. Then, parts of the Midwest were able to adapt and reinvent their economic bases around higher value-added goods and services.  The Chicago area, for example, shifted over the course of several decades from its historical industries to higher-wage industries.  But for a variety of reasons, other parts of the Midwest, with the exception of the Minneapolis area, could never fully make the shift and, as a result, suffered relatively slow economic growth.

As economic transformation once again leads to a dramatic expansion in the effective size of the economy—this time on a global scale—the key question is which path will we follow.  Will we follow the Chicago experience, which implies moving aggressively into next-generation industries, including advanced IT, robotics, nanotechnology, biotechnology, and high-level business services, while at the same time maintaining a smaller share of highly efficient and competitive traditional industries?  Or, will we follow the experience of much of the Midwest, which implies sticking with our existing economic base at the risk of slow overall growth and even slower income growth?

The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System has an answer to that question.  We believe it is critical to develop and implement new strategies for Wisconsin and the Midwest that build on our considerable strengths in the global technology and knowledge based industries.

In fact, one of the Action Steps in the strategic plan that the Board of Regents adopted earlier this year says that we will “Accelerate Transformation of Knowledge Capacity into Leading-Edge Jobs and Economic Vitality for Wisconsin.”  We believe that all thirteen of our universities in the UW System have a real opportunity to set a common strategy and broad set of activities as part of an integrated economic development strategy.

Others have embraced similar notions.  The American Association of State Colleges and Universities put out a policy paper not long ago on the role state colleges can play in supporting economic development.  That report concluded that:

Applied research and development activities at regional state colleges and universities bolster their primary mission of undergraduate education as well as contribute to local and statewide economic growth.  As states boost efforts to fund and stimulate research as part of an integrated economic development strategy, they should seek to fully harness the research and innovation capacity of all four-year public colleges and universities.

I am convinced that this is a real window of potential for the UW System.  Our campuses across the state are already looked to as “idea machines” – preparing students in science and math fields for the knowledge economy workforce, building a culture of entrepreneurship, and benefiting those businesses and industries through leadership in research and development. 

And that’s why I am thrilled to participate in the opening of this nanotechnology center.  It builds perfectly and strongly on that theme.

Through internships, classroom experiences, and faculty collaborations, the center will provide UW students with the high-level technical training in science, technology, engineering and math fields and the entrepreneurship skills necessary to compete for high-paying jobs.  The center will also integrate research and development into teaching at UW-Platteville; it will help attract and retain the best and brightest faculty, who are committed to both teaching and research; it will build partnerships among higher education, industry and government; it will facilitate the development of products, tools and technologies with immediate applications in the marketplace; and it will accelerate economic growth both regionally and statewide.

This center is what every region of every developed country in the world covets and strives to achieve.

Nanotechnology may be all about small, but its impact is huge.  The UW System Board of Regents is proud of the role that UW-Platteville is taking in creating this new Center.  I want to thank Chancellor Markee and the other leaders at UW-Platteville for their vision to expand high-end technologies and business growth.

So, as we officially open the Nanotechnology Center for Collaborative Research & Development, please join me in congratulating all those who were involved in this important effort.