UK is Essential to Kentucky's Future

Recently, I attended two events within one hour of each other that powerfully illustrated how central UK is to our state’s future promise. At the same time, though, they underscored the potential peril we face without a sustained investment in our country to research and discovery.

First, I was honored to speak, along with Gov. Beshear, Mayor Gray and others, at the dedication ceremony for the new Eastern State Hospital, which UK HealthCare will be operating on behalf of the Commonwealth.

It is a spectacular facility that promises to take the care of those most vulnerable in our society out of the shadows and into the light because of high-tech, high-touch care for which we are so well-known.

Just down the road from the new Eastern State Hospital is our Center for Applied Energy Research. There, I again joined the Governor and Mayor for a celebration – this time, the announcement that NOHMs Technologies – which manufactures Lithium-ion batteries – is relocating to Lexington from Ithaca, N.Y. and Cornell University. NOHMs is bringing the potential of 162 high-quality, high-wage jobs and more than $5.3 million in investment to our state.

The company and its young entrepreneur founder were attracted by the partnership that exists among UK, the state and Lexington as well as our reputation for research in advanced manufacturing as evidenced by the Kentucky-Argonne Battery Manufacturing Research and Development Center.

As we stood in the lobby of CAER’s headquarters, I was struck once again about the critical importance of two things central to both announcements – great facilities and great talent.

An outstanding university thrives only when both are in place. But the same is true of our country. Our economic advance as a country has been built, in no small way, from our extraordinary commitment to research, discovery and development. Whether scientists labor in labs on a seemingly obscure research question that becomes a drug that combats cholesterol and heart disease or work on the front lines to unlock the secret of how to ensure that energy and fuel are burned and consumed in a cleaner more sustainable fashion, it takes a long-term commitment to investment in research.

Our current budget battles and protracted stalemates in Washington, frankly, imperil that progress and that future.

At UK, because of your talent and our commitment to building facilities that harness and empower that intellect and skill, we are making an undeniably important investment in our Commonwealth’s future.

Our announcement earlier this summer that Markey Cancer Center has been designated as a federal cancer center underscores our commitment. It was the result of years of planned investment in people and facilities.

We pursued this dream not for ourselves, but because Kentucky cancer mortality rates are too high – the highest in the nation. NCI-designation and federal support for scientific breakthroughs reached in our labs and clinics are essential if we want to decrease cancer deaths in Kentucky.

However, as part of sequestration, the budget for NIH – the federal agency responsible for supporting medical research – was cut by $1.5 billion; translating to roughly 700 fewer competitive research projects funded.

We can do more, and we must do more. But it will take a renewed investment in our model for prosperity. Competing nations are using the formula that we developed to beat us at our own game.

As the country recovers in a still fragile global economy, we cannot forget – nor abandon – the principles that made us strong. Public investment in research and development, though not always immediately apparent, is an essential driver of our recovery. 

It has been a pillar of our success. It will be in the future, if we commit to such investment now.