For much of the 1990s, Oregon led the nation in disinvesting in public colleges and universities.  By 2000, Oregon’s universities were struggling to maintain their existing programs while businesses were looking to Oregon’s higher education system to provide the well-trained, highly skilled graduates needed to ensure Oregon’s economic future.
Many technology leaders and some trade associations had made higher education excellence in engineering, biotechnology and computer science a part of their lobbying agenda. However, the state lacked a broad-based group of business leaders to deliver the message that funding for these programs at state universities would strengthen all businesses and the entire state economy.
Based on our experience with clients in the high technology sector and our previous work with Oregon State University’s College of Engineering, KVO brought together an independent coalition of business leaders to refine and promote a consensus agenda of support for higher education initiatives that could stimulate long-term economic growth and job creation in Oregon.  This “New Economy Coalition” would provide a unified, grassroots private-sector advocacy effort to build public awareness and legislative support.
KVO conducted executive interviews with legislators and business leaders to assess the political dynamics and key messages that could stimulate awareness of the importance of higher education as a catalyst for economic growth.  We learned that:
  • New funding for higher education, and for new programs, would be difficult in the 2001-2003 biennium, given reduced revenues due to a slowing economy and tax-reduction measures approved by the 1999 Legislature and voters.
  • Many legislators voiced support for a strong higher education system, but viewed it as an access and affordability issue.  The argument that a strong higher education system helps overall economic development and business growth was not as resonant.
  • A grassroots effort involving private sector leaders, with some collaboration from the University System and other state agencies, was needed to promote a targeted agenda to boost higher education funding and spur economic growth.  While many business organizations were lobbying the Legislature for elements similar to our agenda, no group or organization had implemented a statewide public awareness campaign to build support for this program.
Working primarily with leaders from Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Tektronix, and other top local businesses, KVO developed a consensus five-point legislative and fiscal agenda that could unite the business community and lend support for the efforts of state universities, the University System administration, various state agencies, private business groups, high tech companies, entrepreneurs and other professionals to promote long-term financial growth in Oregon.
KVO entitled the agenda, “A Blueprint for Oregon’s Prosperity,” and it was unveiled at a kick-off event on February 26, at which dozens of business leaders expressed support for its mission and aims.  From that event, the New Economy Coalition was formed.  The five core agenda items endorsed by Coalition members were:
  • Support for increased funding of the Oregon University System (OUS).
  • Support for the OUS recommendation to double the number of engineering graduates coming from all engineering programs in Oregon.
  • Support for the OUS recommendation of a top-tier engineering program at OSU.
  • Support for the top-tier biosciences proposal at OHSU-OGI. 
  • Support for recommendations of the OUS, and for the Oregon Resource and Technology Development Account (ORTDA), to provide a higher education technology transfer and commercialization infrastructure.
The Coalition solicited funds from companies and private donors to embark on a grassroots public awareness and editorial campaign to promote the five-point agenda.  Coalition members met with editorial boards, community groups and legislators to emphasize the importance of state investment in Oregon’s public colleges and universities in expanding long-term economic growth potential in Oregon and to promote enactment of legislation that would enable such long-term growth.
The Coalition’s efforts resulted in widespread editorial endorsement, public awareness and increased legislative appropriations for higher education engineering, bioscience and technology transfer programs.   A complete listing of newspaper editorial endorsements, as well as contributed op-ed articles placed by KVO and earned media hits, is included in the supplemental materials provided with this award entry.
Among the legislative accomplishments achieved, in part, through the Coalition’s efforts:
  • $812 million in General Fund dollars allocated as base funding for the Oregon University System for the 2001-2003 biennium, a $50 million increase over the Governor’s initial budget proposal.
  • $386 million allocated for capital construction in the University System, its largest such appropriation ever.
  • $15 million towards the goal of doubling the number of engineering graduates in Oregon by 2005.
  • $27 million in bonding authority for a Science and Engineering Building at Portland State University.
  • $23 million towards the five-year, $180 million public-private funding goal to build Oregon State University's College of Engineering into a top-tier (top 25) institution.
  • $2 million for engineering and computer science peer improvement programs at Portland State University, Oregon Institute of Technology and the University of Oregon.
  • Referral to the voters for $200 million in public bonding authority for OHSU’s Oregon Opportunity program to build necessary research infrastructure and recruit additional scientists to help create a biotechnology industry in Oregon (for approval on the May 2002 ballot).
  • Passage of all five technology transfer bills, establishing funds and accounts enabling the University System to use declared earnings for funding of enhanced research and development activities.
  • One-time funding of $5 million to the ORTDA to assist in development of new emerging businesses grown out of university research, plus $4 million transferred from Oregon Growth Account.
  • Referral to voters of a constitutional amendment enabling public universities to hold equity in companies developed through university research (for approval on May 2002 ballot).
The Coalition built a strong grassroots network of business leaders that continues to advocate for policies that will ensure Oregon’s economic prosperity.   Legislative leadership and members of key committees praised the efforts of the Coalition, endorsed the consensus agenda and thanked Coalition members for their communications and involvement.  In addition, a number of Oregon’s gubernatorial candidates have adopted Coalition agenda items in their 2002 campaigns.