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The Record
Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The following is a response to comments by Waterloo Coun. Ian McLean about the agreement to donate land near the city core for the construction of the proposed Balsillie School for International Relations.

We are pleased to see that Waterloo city council takes its due diligence seriously in protecting the city's and taxpayers' interests. Debate and discussion are important to the vitality of a community. We would like to provide our perspectives to the debate.

There is universal agreement today that knowledge is the critical ingredient in continuing economic growth and prosperity. The world has moved into a knowledge economy. The best- trained and best-brained communities will outpace the rest, and the intellectual laggards will also be the economic laggards. It's always worth recalling an old slogan: If you think education is expensive, try the opposite.

The acquisition, creation and transfer of knowledge -- even and indeed particularly for the Silicon Valleys of the world -- is most efficient and effective with a cluster of institutions and a critical mass of experts who work together and motivate and spark one another.

The excitement of intellectual ferment in turn is a major drawing card in enticing the best and the brightest from their present jobs to join the growing group in Kitchener-Waterloo because this is where the action will be as the centre of intellectual gravity in the country. Let's face it, in today's world, the best don't apply -- they choose from any number of attractive competing job offers.

To illustrate, both of us gave up senior diplomatic posts -- one as an ambassador, the other as an assistant secretary-general of the United Nations - to come here because of the exciting intellectual potential on offer. Neither of us retired; we both resigned from our previous posts to accept lower compensation packages. The prospect of having a full-fledged school of international affairs that from the start will aim to compete with the best such schools in the world because of a substantial resource base is immensely alluring.

It will prove no less alluring to other senior scholars and ambitious students. The expansion of student and faculty numbers to the local economy will be significant, and will fuel the twin cities' prosperity. The substantial numbers of new staff at the Balsillie school will inject millions of dollars into the local economy as they buy and furnish houses, buy cars and contribute in a myriad other ways.

There is solid research to back that up. A report at the University of Alaska reviewing the economic impact of higher education found that many states are using their innovative universities as economic engines. In Arizona, taxpayers provided $700 million to its universities and got almost $4 billion back in the form of educated workers, payroll, local purchases, and a broader tax base.

As well as the faculty salaries and student expenditures that will feed directly into the local economy, there will be taxes paid to the federal, provincial and city coffers. An exceptional group of scholars will also mean that they will attract good sums of research grants from national and international funding bodies, and organize national and international conferences. That is, each dollar brought into the region is multiplied as it gets cycled through the local economy.

The new school will add to the demand for farther upmarket hotel and conference facilities to accommodate the growing reputation and use of the institutions here as the nerve centres of this most intelligent community.

A 2007 Deloitte & Touche study found that the estimated economic impact of a proposed new UW campus to the City of Stratford would total $26.7 million annually. The construction of the campus and residence is estimated to generate an additional $56.4 million.

The Balsillie school will be a stable, long-term and significant employer, bringing hundreds of students and researchers into Waterloo's uptown district adding to its enhanced vitality and prosperity. It will build upon the existing investments that both the Perimeter Institute and CIGI have already made in community building and economic growth.

In sum, the new school will strengthen the intellectual capital, sustain the vibrancy and vitality of the K-W and broader regional community, and contribute substantially to the health of the local economy.


About the Authors

Jorge Heine, former CIGI Chair of Global Governance
Ramesh Thakur, former CIGI Distinguished Fellow

The opinions expressed in this article/comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.