Unused university land could create more STEM jobs

The 5-year plan would offer tax incentives to companies who used the land.

An attempt to increase Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics jobs could result in more companies moving onto unused university land.

The federal government is attempting to inflate the STEM job market. In 2013, the White House proposed its 5-Year Federal STEM Education Strategic Plan. According to the plan, the federal government will make investments into higher learning in those fields.

In Jefferson City last week, a Missouri House committee heard a series of bills proposing ways to use university land and offering tax incentives for STEM companies and graduates.

The Economic Innovation Investment Act, HB 676, proposes to offer tax incentives for companies that establish themselves on unused, state college-owned land. It also offers tax incentives for the employees of those companies.

In order to qualify for the tax incentives, the institution must meet four criteria: It must further the academic mission of the institution, have a positive community and economic “reasonable performance metrics” to evaluate the business over time. The land must not have been acquired by right of condemnation after the bill’s effective date, proposed as Aug. 28, 2015.

The bill is sponsored by Rep. Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia

“I understand his intent is to increase collaboration between businesses and universities so the university can benefit,” said Steven Devlin, director of MU Extension Business Development Program director. “It is a significant opportunity for growth in this state. From that standpoint, if we can increase the amount of interaction between university and business and industry, I think it’s a good model for us … I don’t think we can survive as an institution without that interaction.”

Relationships between businesses and universities can be hesitant but should be done, Devlin said.

“Are there considerations or concerns when it comes to the relationship between academics and business? Certainly,” he said. “I know a lot of pure academicians are hesitant to get involved with business or industry because they are afraid about their academic freedom, and I think there are valid concerns there. But I don’t think we can survive as an institution without having that interaction. They are a part of our customers, a part of the system that we operate in.”

That interaction can also benefit students in the future, Devlin said.

“We can’t just graduate students and throw them over the wall,” he said. “It doesn’t work that way. We are a part of an interactive system. You have business that provides markets in terms of where our graduates go, they have products that are generating revenue and tax income that helps support the institutions so, to me, it is beneficial to have that interaction.”

Devlin said MU did not have any direct driving force behind this bill’s creation.

This bill does not apply only to MU land, but to all unused land owned by public two-year and four-year higher education institutions. The effects of this bill would span statewide.

The bill’s next hearing is scheduled for March 3.

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