That's the message G. Michael Alder, National Centers of Excellence chairman, told North Dakota legislators during a Workforce Committee meeting Wednesday in Fargo.
"It will not happen and it will not go forward without continued support of the Legislature," Alder said, cautioning lawmakers against trying to make the centers fit into a mold and warning them to expect projects to fail.
"You are investing," Alder said. "Some of your investments, even with your oversight, will not be successful."
The Centers of Excellence program, established in North Dakota in 2005, was a major focus of the committee's discussion.
Centers of Excellence are hubs of research and development on North Dakota college and university campuses that work to partner with private companies to commercialize new products and services.
Shane Goettle, North Dakota Department of Commerce commissioner, said many centers are meeting their goals and the department is maintaining higher accountability. The department has implemented all 15 recommendations from an earlier audit report to improve accountability, he said.
North Dakota's recent U.S. Chamber of Commerce ranking as a national leader in job growth shows that the state's programs are succeeding, Alder said.
Some legislators expressed concern about skeptics who suggest the private sector should be responsible for this.
"It's not corporate welfare," Alder said. "It's an investment in research and development that will bring you tax base, that will bring you jobs for your children."
A recent study of the program from Jan. 1, 2007, through June 30, 2009, estimated a $329.4 million economic impact, the creation of more than 2,000 jobs, and 17 new or expanded businesses.
Legislators approved $60 million for the program and nearly $20 million had been spent.
"A sizable investment has been made, so we need to make sure that we're taking the time to evaluate the returns," said Sen. Tony Grindberg, R-Fargo, committee chairman. "In my opinion, it will continue to position North Dakota as a leader in the science and technology arena as well as opportunities for advancing the state."
Today a Centers of Excellence Summit from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at North Dakota State University's Richard H. Barry Hall will evaluate progress and strategize about how to build on early successes.