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The Economy Boosters

How do we grow our No. 1 economic engine – agriculture – in North Carolina and boost the state’s agricultural economy to $100 billion? And what is the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ ongoing role in making this happen?

The college has been for many years a major driver of the state’s economy. We’ve done this with innovation and collaboration, by leveraging ideas and resources to solve complex issues. We have worked to transform the economy through a formula of assets plus ideas plus research plus partners.

The key is this: When we help our stakeholders, we help the economy. We introduce technology, new ways of thinking, new product developments, so our stakeholders can help their independent businesses to be better, which helps the industry to be better and helps us again to respond to their needs.

The College continues to be the site of the genesis and the nurturing of ideas and initiatives that will deliver the innovative technologies to help us not only build the economy but feed the world! At the end of the day, building the ag economy is a matter of creating new opportunities – and giving our taxpayers a return on investment.

There are two really good examples of how an economic return can be engendered on the investment in university agricultural research initiatives for the future: One is the Plant Sciences Initiative, featured in this issue of Perspectives. The other is the Food Manufacturing Initiative, to be featured in the next. An economic feasibility study on both of these initiatives indicates that, collectively, the two can create 70,000 jobs and add $20 billion to the agricultural economy in our state in the next decade.

Simply put, these things are going to make our state better. In this issue, we provide an indepth look at the Plant Sciences Initiative and its promise to deliver the world-feeding technologies, high-value crop varieties, new food products, increased industry capital, job growth and superb workforce education. We also spotlight a number of the plant scientists whose work illustrates how we are already delivering on that promise.

That is followed by several other feature and news stories exemplifying the potential economic impact of our work that supports agribusinesses and commodities, creates and improves products and trains the needed workforce,  through research, extension and teaching endeavors in areas such as horticulture, aquaculture, soil science, crop science, animal science, agroecology and agricultural and extension education.

We look to the future in terms of what jobs are going to be most important and how we can best equip our students to be ready to take on the challenges of new jobs and be leaders in their fields. The better we can prepare our students through interdisciplinary training to meet the needs of future jobs in the state, the better the ideas that they can bring with them that could ultimately enhance the economy.

We are also focused on enhancing the already strong partnerships we have, while better engaging industry in projects that will propel us forward and introducing new partners that can help with these collaborations.

This summer, I began my role as chair of Gov. Pat McCrory’s Food Manufacturing Task Force. This is a committee created with the state’s economic future in mind, especially new business development, with plans to foster the growth of food manufacturing endeavors and the development of innovative food products and processes. We will explore how we will attract companies with a global presence to build food manufacturing operations in North Carolina, how we can help small entrepreneurs build their business interests and how we can enhance value-added profitability, so we can gain more of an economic benefit to the ingredients that we produce here in North Carolina.

In these and all our endeavors, we will be stakeholder-driven, allowing stakeholders to partner with us, to leverage ideas and resources that they have, so that synergistically we can solve the complex challenges of the future. That is the key. That’s how we’ll do it.

Richard Linton
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences