SUU aims to help Iron County economy via UCAP initiative

Published: February 09, 2011 | Read Time: 4 minutes

Southern Utah University employees and resources are being mobilized to contribute to economic development in Iron County as part of the Utah Cluster Acceleration Partnership initiative.

SUU President Michael T. Benson said the goal is for the university to work with the community to “build on emerging opportunities that will strengthen the local economy and contribute to long-term growth.”

The partnership is overseen by the Utah System of Higher Education and funded primarily by the Utah Department of Workforce Services, with assistance from USHE and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

SUU is one of four USHE institutions currently engaged in a stewardship audit that will eventually lead to improved collaboration between the university and local businesses in the regions.

In addition to providing students with expanded learning opportunities that include working with business partners, UCAP’s ultimate goal is to alter the culture of higher education in Utah by orienting colleges and universities toward economic acceleration and growth.

“As the state’s designated liberal arts and sciences university, we pride ourselves in producing well-rounded and well-prepared graduates who can think critically, reason persuasively, and work effectively,” Benson said. “We are also keen on assisting our local business community, both in terms of helping them meet their needs and how we as a campus might better respond to community business opportunities.”

As part of the process, each institution receiving UCAP funds will work with community and business leaders to identify one or more sectors — called “clusters” — in the local economy that are ripe for acceleration and growth.

Elsewhere in Utah, Weber State identified aerospace as its cluster, while Utah Valley picked digital media and Salt Lake Community College selected energy. SUU is in the process of working with regional business leaders to identify potential clusters in Iron County.

SUU administrators and representatives from the School of Business, the Business Resource Center, and the Office of Government Relations & Regional Services met with business and community leaders Jan. 18 to assess the local business community’s impressions of how the university contributes to regional economy, and to obtain business leaders’ input on how to effectively use SUU resources to support and expand that economy.

“I was encouraged by the meeting,” Benson said. “We heard from several business leaders who remain enthusiastic about SUU’s potential to help local companies and industries respond to their needs.”

The Iron County business community seems eager for SUU’s assistance.

As he introduced the UCAP initiative, Craig Isom, director of SUU’s Business Resource Center, conducted an informal survey of 61 business leaders at the meeting.

Some 80 percent of respondents said economic development should be “very important” in the university’s mission. Another 78 percent said SUU resources would be “very valuable” to the regional economy. Meanwhile, 75 percent said they think there are specific things SUU can do to help their businesses.

Isom provided an overview of how the Business Resource Center can help Iron County businesses, and Brennan Wood, Iron County/Cedar City economic development director, explained how the city and county are working with SUU and UCAP.

The meeting concluded with small-group breakout sessions in which participants addressed specific questions about potential clusters, emerging business opportunities, and leveraging SUU resources to grow and accelerate Iron County businesses.

“This process really underscores the need of SUU to continually engage our local population in garnering both their support and their input as to how we can do better to address local needs and opportunities,” Benson said. “I am very sanguine about the future as we move forward.”

The Jan. 18 meeting was part of SUU’s five-phase process for implementing UCAP locally.

In the pre-phase, Isom is working with Greg Powell, a partner in Meridian Consulting Group and associate professor of management in the SUU School of Business, to conduct a stewardship audit, designed to define regional needs, engage community and academic leaders, and set a course for the program.

An important part of the pre-phase, which is ongoing, will be appointing a steering committee to oversee SUU’s UCAP progress in the coming months.

The pre-phase’s ultimate objective is “to identify our clusters and recommend them, along with our rationale, to USHE,” Powell said.

In subsequent phases, the UCAP steering committee will assess cluster growth potential; design a strategy to grow clusters; implement the strategy by training the workforce and strengthening industry-academic partnerships; and monitor outcomes by assessing the program’s impact on cluster acceleration.

Key elements of the assessment will focus on SUU’s alignment with the business community, development of jobs and job-related skills, and increased wages or earnings.

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