Chancellor James Oblinger visited all 100 counties in North Carolina while serving as dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and has seen the impact NC State research has on local economies statewide. RESULTS asked him to comment on the role fostering economic development plays in the University.
R: How do you define economic development? Is it all about jobs?
Chancellor: Prosperity for the state depends on our response to new and transforming industries. Collaboration, innovation, and a trained workforce are our primary responses, but to retain the high quality of life we have achieved in North Carolina, we must also pursue sustainable development.
The jobs created in North Carolina must be well-paid positions with long-term prospects for growth. Such jobs require a quality workforcepeople who have the skills to handle current requirements and the educational foundation to pursue additional training. NC State works hard to fulfill its educational mission and produce graduates who can meet industry’s needs, but students don’t wait till they step onto our campus to start learning. We also work with our colleagues in K-12 education through programs like the Science House to instill in youngsters a love for learning that will carry into their adult lives. Along with trained workers, we need bold leaders, whether they are entrepreneurs or public servants making decisions for the betterment of the state.
Finally, sustainable economic development also must encompass environmental stewardship. We cannot afford to grow at the expense of North Carolina’s natural beauty and resources, which are key not only to the quality of life we enjoy but also to industries such as tourism and agriculture. Given NC State’s tradition in resource management, we will play a major role in balancing job creation with environmental protection.
R: The University’s primary mission is education and research. Why is it important to create jobs?
Chancellor: At a land grant institution, extension is as much a part of our mission as teaching and research. Extension allows us to reach out into the state and helps us listen to individuals, companies, and communities, and respond to their needs. Our history of delivering relevant and responsive results gives us credibility with industry and among political leaders as we move forward.
Also, we are partners with the state and with the people we serve. It doesn’t benefit the University or the state to educate people only to have them go elsewhere for employment. We work with state and local leaders and industries to support business across the continuum of their growthfrom start-up to maturity. Our faculty expertise, our research, our students, and our alumni all play a part in the economic health of the state.
R: You have taken the helm of the University at a critical juncture in North Carolina’s history, as the economy continues a major shift to more skilled industries. How will NC State meet the increasing demands of this 21st-century economy?
Chancellor: Technology has created a new and expanding set of requisite skills for most jobs, and global competition has put a premium on the ability of companiesand, in turn, their peopleto continuously innovate. NC State is also innovating to keep pace with the needs of our students, our faculty and staff, and the people of North Carolina. We like to describe our forward-thinking approach as “innovation in action.” We not only use our traditional strengths in research and extension to become an engine for development, but also challenge our students to enrich society through their work.
Our Gateway Counties project, for example, is working in a dozen rural and urban counties, using our extension offices to become more proactive in meeting the needs of the people they serve. Once we learn their biggest concerns, we make the breadth of the University’s resources available to address those concerns.
One of our best examples of innovation in action continues to be the growth of our Centennial Campus. A generation ago, we had hundreds of acres of raw land and an idea that business, government, and academia could work better if they worked together. Today, we have proven that concept, with students and faculty working side-by-side with corporate and government researchers to solve real-world problems. I see this model evolving over time as NC State continues to adapt to the changing economic development needs of the state.