Regional Voice: Dr. John C. Cavanaugh, President & CEO Consortium of Universities of the Washington Metropolitan Area

March 25, 2016
By The 2030 Group

For any region to thrive economically, it is essential that it has a very strong base of excellent colleges and universities that serve a broad range of needs. The best possible base would include the full spectrum of universities from very large research universities that have a major focus on knowledge creation to those that strongly focus on creating the supply of future talent and ensuring that access to postsecondary education is open to all. Fortunately, the Washington, DC region is blessed with this full spectrum of institutions that address all of these needs. Indeed, the combined scope of the postsecondary institutions and related healthcare networks represents one of the very largest economic sectors in the region, and the largest in the District of Columbia.

Having this outstanding regional base of postsecondary institutions, however, does not mean that it is appreciated as being one of the best in the country, nor does it guarantee strong relations with the regional business community. Achieving these goals requires better and deeper communication and partnership. The Consortium is fostering these through its work with both the 2030 Group and with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) and the Greater Washington Board of Trade (BOT) through the Global Cities Initiative, as well as various other efforts such as the regional branding work in the biotech/biomedical sector. All of these initiatives are resulting in much better understanding and appreciation for the scope and quality of the postsecondary sector in the Washington region.  A good example of this is the opportunity for leaders from the government, business, and postsecondary to work together on the Global Cities Initiative Steering Committee. This collaboration will result in the creation of an export plan for the region that reflects their joint input and will include measurable outcomes that will require ongoing cooperation.

Postsecondary institutions have long been recognized for their role in developing and nurturing talent. The Washington region benefits from the dual focus of institutions in growing our local talent as well as capitalizing on the global reach of the major research institutions. The result is a highly diverse talent pool for regional businesses. This diverse talent also stimulates the innovation and entrepreneurial activities supported in the postsecondary institutions. Innovation often results in new discoveries and intellectual property that benefits both institutions and business/government sectors. Nearly half of the CUWMA members have campus-based or sponsored incubators, and most have degree programs or concentrations in entrepreneurship, all of which have close connections to business.

Talent creation, innovation, and entrepreneurship have direct economic benefit. For example, the global connections created and sustained by postsecondary institutions is a critical part of the export economy, which is the primary focus of the Global Cities Initiative as well as a topic in the 2030 Roadmap. Helping to create new businesses and providing new intellectual property that can be leveraged are well understood ways to grow exports. Recruiting international students searching globally for faculty, creating exchange opportunities for students and faculty, and supporting the hospitality sector through hosting of international conferences and visitation by families and scholars, are a few of the less recognized ways that colleges and universities increase exports. Additionally, the capacity of colleges and universities to help businesses and governments understand the global export climate is another way that the Consortium is an essential aspect of growing exports.

To be sure, research universities in the region must do their part internally to create greater incentives for the translation of discoveries and intellectual property into business opportunities. This need is noted in the 2030 Roadmap, and is an issue that is being addressed. Higher rates of technology transfer will also necessitate deeper partnerships with related businesses, creating opportunities for new investment and rethinking of old relationships.

This is clearly an exciting time for the Consortium. As we strive to raise awareness of the world class institutional base already present in the Washington region, we are also striving to create deeper relationships with a broader range of businesses and with regional governments. We fully understand that only when all three of these sectors collaborate will the overall economy of the region grow. When the region’s economy grows, so will opportunities for all to enjoy a better quality of life. The Consortium is firmly committed to doing all it can to make it so.