President Huddleston's Op-Ed

Imagine a New Hampshire business that generates $1.3 billion for the state's economy every year. Imagine that its partnerships with private businesses create or save hundreds of jobs, raise millions in investments and help thousands of small businesses get started, meet payroll and succeed.

Its research and development wing is rated among the nation's best.

At the same time, it gives its trainees the skills they need to thrive in the new economy. Finally, it helps their families and makes New Hampshire a great place to live.

This is the University of New Hampshire.

While UNH is not a for-profit business, as an investment UNH offers the New Hampshire economy an extraordinary return on its public dollars.

Remarkably, UNH accomplishes all this with a relatively modest, though critical, contribution from the state. The state's contribution to UNH is just 13 percent of our budget. As a state, New Hampshire makes by far the lowest per-capita contribution to higher education in the country.

With ingenuity and true New Hampshire frugality, UNH wisely leverages this state money. For the state's $68 million annual investment and with other sources, UNH contributes $1.3 billion to the gross state product. Put another way, UNH generates $1,000 per state resident in economic activity, while the state's contribution to UNH equals $52 per state resident. That's a 20-to-1 return on investment.

So it was disheartening to learn that the House Finance Committee recommends cutting the state's contribution to University System of New Hampshire by 45 percent. In real dollars, this would mean a $31 million loss for UNH -- a historic and devastating cut.

We understand the dire nature of the state's budget. The challenges New Hampshire faces are unprecedented, and we well know that the era of business-as-usual has passed. As partners with the state, UNH takes its responsibility for addressing these challenges seriously. Our strategic plan for 2020 is a major step that will remake the way we deliver higher education. At its core is a demand for more innovative UNH collaborations with private industries, funders and entrepreneurs.

It also demands real sacrifices. Last month, the University System took a proactive step to cut almost $9 million in employee compensation and benefits. UNH also appointed a new task force to seek further savings, which will report out soon.

While we are uncertain how such deep cuts would be absorbed, they would certainly threaten UNH's ability to deliver the research, technology and expertise that are already helping hundreds of New Hampshire businesses get started, stay in business and thrive in tough times.

The New Hampshire Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at UNH, for example, is the only state agency that has certified, full-time business advisers to provide confidential, long-term management advice to small businesses. Last year, it advised 724 companies in 181 New Hampshire communities -- resulting in a return of $10 in tax revenues and $158 in wages for every dollar invested by the state.

The New Hampshire Innovation Research Center at UNH has awarded more than $6 million to 129 companies. Matching money brings the total to $20 million over 20 years.

Last summer, UNH launched the New Hampshire Innovation Commercialization Center at Pease Tradeport. This effort provides expert advice, business services, and seed money to new companies -- including those that are using UNH-patented technology.

UNH also launched a new partnership to extend broadband Internet access across the state, which will create 700 jobs and improve access to 12,000 businesses and institutions.

I'm optimistic that the full House, and then the Senate, will take a second look at UNH and reconsider the House Finance Committee's recommendation. In times like these, it makes no sense to slash an investment that offers such strong, consistent returns for our citizens and our state's future.