Here’s a revolutionary idea: In exchange for increased state funding from the General Assembly, state universities should be required to become more proactive in helping the commonwealth promote new foreign investment and trade. This would help Virginia create more high-quality jobs.
State universities have large numbers of foreign graduate students studying everything — computer sciences, information technology, international trade, international business, comparative cultures, public health, informatics, life sciences, agricultural economics and myriad other subjects.
Requiring state universities to annually survey these students — who often receive grants and other support, including assistance with their visas — to provide information and leads concerning business, trade and investment opportunities in their home countries could be of immense importance to the commonwealth’s economic development.
The data could then be aggregated and turned into a database for the private sector and relevant state agencies. If a voluntary form is used, this practice would not be too intrusive or violate anyone’s rights.
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State universities have a huge untapped asset in the foreign graduate students who have chosen to study in the United States. The primary motive for most of these students is to learn about their professional fields in connection with the United States. In fact, they often want to start businesses with links to their homelands.
New arrivals in this country often become the most aggressive entrepreneurs. They help bring together people, ideas, products and financing from around the world. They are a self-selecting group that has gone through a lot of effort to study and live in the United States. Why waste this opportunity?
The commonwealth can help match the interests of these students or the leads they provide to firms within Virginia. This process would not be too difficult or an excessively burdensome obligation for universities. The schools’ cooperation would help with the most important issue of this decade: job creation.
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The governor should consider a proposal along the lines discussed here as part of his legislative and executive agenda. It would cost little and has the potential to be a silver bullet for job creation. Harnessing this slice of globalization for domestic job creation can provide a path to greater economic stability and progress.
On a related note, the governor might consider requiring state universities to cooperate more among themselves in their economic development efforts and to become more aggressive in leveraging their many international assets. This can be done by establishing more formal ties focusing on nurturing the international aspects of economic development. Strong gubernatorial leadership is necessary to harness the dynamic energies of our great universities.
The state university system can provide a real competitive advantage to Virginia as it attempts to compete more effectively in the global economy.
Stuart S. Malawer is a professor at George Mason University’s School of Public Policy. He serves on the board of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. Contact him at StuartMalawer@msn.com