Our Views: A feedstock of technology

The capital city can continue to be a growth center in technology  — if the state will continue to do its part in fueling growth through higher education.

From Baton Rouge to New Orleans, a burst of major industrial construction is helping to fuel the economy of Louisiana. With the low price of natural gas, and a receptiveness to petrochemical plants’ development that is not the norm in other parts of the country, the prospects for the Mississippi River corridor are bright for at least the next few years.

At the same time, Louisiana’s need to diversify that economic base remains a serious challenge.

With three of Louisiana’s most significant research centers in Baton Rouge, the capital city can continue to be a growth center in technology — if the state will continue to do its part in fueling growth through higher education.

The Baton Rouge Area Chamber recently noted the research productivity of LSU’s main campus and other major research generators, the Agricultural Center and the Pennington Biomedical Research Center. Combined at almost $300 million in research generated, the benefits of this “clean industry” are growing.

Yet against some of LSU’s football rivals, such as Texas A&M or Florida, the research gap is dramatic: A peer average in flagship institutions is $645 million, BRAC said in its 2012 report on the region’s economy.

Of course, LSU is not the only source of research grants from the federal government and corporations, but it is the state’s leader. And like every other institution of higher learning in Louisiana, LSU has seen significant damage to its financial base by cutbacks at the state level since 2009.

If natural gas is feedstock for industrial processes, it is the state funding that is the feedstock for intellectual progress: Tuition increases often simply allow campuses to pay the bills and continue undergraduate education.

That is vital, but graduate education and the pursuit of intellectual talent — research professors and their grants — require flexible dollars from the state. To fail to fuel that growth with more state funding, not less, makes as much economic sense as blowing up the pipelines to our petrochemical plants.