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Morehead underscores UGA’s impact on economic development

Explaining a strong school and vibrant state are “inextricably intertwined,” University of Georgia President Jere Morehead focused on the college’s ties to economic development in remarks to the Cartersville-Bartow County Chamber of Commerce’s Quarterly Luncheon.

More than 350 people gathered Monday at the Clarence Brown Conference Center to hear Morehead, who became the university’s 22nd president July 1, 2013.

“One of the things I have said repeatedly throughout the state, everywhere that I have spoken in the last year, is that I believe that the Great Recession taught everyone in Athens something very important if they didn’t already know it, which is that to have a great university of Georgia we need to have a strong and vibrant state of Georgia,” he said.

Morehead’s goal of improving UGA’s connections with the business community came early. He established an economic development office in Atlanta in one of his first acts as president.

“What we are trying to do at UGA is a simple thing — we’re trying to make the state of Georgia stronger economically and we’re trying to signal with that office in Atlanta … that we want to be there at the beginning, during the middle and when the business deals close. And we want to be a part of that transaction and we want to help in any way possible,” Morehead said.

In addition, UGA now offers professional development courses for economic development staff across the state and works to connect corporations and industry around the state with the research office in Athens.

“There are now more than 350 commercial products currently on the market that began as research at the University of Georgia and 129 companies that have grown out of that research. That is a pretty impressive statistic in my view,” Morehead said. “… Research that’s taking on our campus that is having a direct benefit on the businesses in this state is helping to create jobs, is helping to create a positive economic climate in our state.

“In the Cartersville area, … our Extension Service is supporting poultry, cattle, ornamental plants, row crop industries and we should always remember … that the agricultural industry is the top industry in the state of Georgia. … Two of the license holders for some of our turfgrass varieties are located here in your community, Sod Atlanta and Turfgrass Group, and our Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication has been working very closely with Rep. [Earl] Ehrhart’s LakePoint development in marketing and public relations internships. These are the kinds of examples that everywhere I go in the state I find a link back to the University of Georgia, and I think that’s what makes the University of Georgia special.”

One of the highlights of the university’s business contribution for Morehead is the Small Business Development Center, which operates 17 development centers across the state to help individuals begin a small business or expand their business.

“Why is that so important? Well the Department of Economic Development says 99 percent of Georgia companies employ fewer than 500 employees, so small business development is critically important to employing the people of this state,” he said. “Over the past five years, our SBDC has helped create 9,777 new jobs and 1,400 new businesses and more than $400 million in capital raised through loans and equity financing all involving SBDC. That’s the sort of important and meaningful work that a lot of people don’t realize happens at the University of Georgia.”

Began in May 2013, the Quarterly Luncheon began as an effort to foster communication between civic and business leaders. The program has featured local government and education officials, as well as former University of Georgia football coach Vince Dooley.

Chamber Chair Adena Harper said Morehead’s focus on collaboration between UGA and the community touched on topics of interest for the Chamber of Commerce.

“Well it was so exciting to me listen to him share on an economic development aspect of the University of Georgia because it showed that this community and UGA can partner together to help our community grow, and this is not only for Cartersville and Bartow County, but also for the entire state,” she said.

Particularly, the research aspect of the college impacted Harper.

“What impressed me most was that he shared that over 350 commercial products have been created through their design and research, and I thought that was pretty cool, as well as 129 companies,” she said. “The other thing that impressed me most is that they are really wanting to partner with small businesses. No small businesses in our country are less than 100 employees, and the small businesses really, [I] think, are encouraged by … what they do with the Small Business Administration.”

The next Quarterly Luncheon will be held in August.

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