CIT Leader Answers the Challenge
Drivers on the Dulles toll road never miss the multicolored, mirrored building that looks like an upside-down triangle. Inside that Herndon, Va., building is Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology, a state-funded economic development institution designed to grow Virginia's high-tech industry.
The president of the center is Dr. Robert G. Templin, who was appointed president of CIT in September 1994, 10 years after the center was created by the General Assembly of Virginia. He came at a time when the state and the business community were questioning the center's existence. Now getting ready to celebrate his two-year anniversary with the center, he has changed its mission and created an institution that has been credited with creating 3,457 high-tech jobs through the center's activities.
CIT was created as a non-profit economic development organization designed to enhance the research and development capability of the state's major research universities in partnership with industry. In the past, its approach was highly criticized inside the pages of this newspaper.
In an editorial dated Aug. 11, 1994, WT stated, "Robert Templin's appointment as president of Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology sends the message that Virginia retains its preference for a flawed economic development strategy and unhealthy parochialism. We challenge Templin to overcome these structural and visionary obstacles to a more ambitious goal of making the CIT an institution of national stature, worthy of its budget as well as its name." Templin overcame the structural and visionary obstacles at a time when Virginia Gov. George Allen was ready to pull the plug.
Upon appointment, Templin changed the focus of the institution by helping 1,500 high-tech companies in Virginia acquire and develop new technologies, and by bringing new products and services to market. In a recent study conducted by Batelle Memorial Institute, the $72.9 million spent on CIT by the state of Virginia from 1988 to 1994 resulted in $525 million to the gross state product.
With a growing annual state budget of $10 million, Templin talked to WT staff writer Tania Anderson about his strategy for success and what he must still accomplish.
WT: What are some objectives that the center still has to accomplish?
TEMPLIN: We're still trying to deliver on our basic pledge, which is helping to create the next generation of technology businesses in Virginia and to grow high-wage technology jobs. We're working with five regions of Virginia that have the basic ingredients that allow them to be technology regions, [such as Hampton Roads, Blacksburg and Richmond], but they perhaps haven't positioned themselves in the right way. We're helping [these] regions exploit their potential to fulfill the promise they have in the technology arena. And then we want to bring those five regions together so Virginia can be known... as an emerging technology state. That's not easy to do when most Virginians don't regard themselves as [living] in a technology state. They think of [Virginia as] the land that gave birth to American democracy, the land of the presidents, a tourism center. Technology is not... the first thing that pops into people's minds.
WT: So you think the rest of the country thinks of Virginia as a technology region?
TEMPLIN: Virginia doesn't think of Virginia as a technology state. That's the first thing that must occur. As we begin to develop those resources, our reputation will grow nationally and internationally. Northern Virginia's reputation has grown significantly over the last 10 years, but Northern Virginia is not the only technology center in Virginia.
WT: What are your greatest challenges as director of the CIT?
TEMPLIN: First, to get Northern Virginia to recognize itself as a community, an interdependent community that depends on the technology community for its future. And the technology community depends on the health of the region for its future. This interdependency is an enormous challenge. In the community it's an awareness that Internet-based interactive communication will be the future. We need to get the region wired. We need to get connected and average people need to understand the power of interactive communication. Our schools must be teaching skills that are related to that. I don't mean teaching kids subjects on the computer as much as how to manage knowledge. There's a new set of skills that will be required and the entire region needs to become familiar and Internet savvy if we're going to realize the potential that is here.
Second, we're trying to build an entrepreneurial spirit. We're not known as an entrepreneurial center. We're known as an area of federal contractors. In Silicon Valley, people invest everything they've got into the development of a new company. And if it goes belly up, then there isn't another opportunity. We need to create the notion that we recognize, nurture and support entrepreneurs as our future. We need to create the financial infrastructure that is necessary to support a generation of entrepreneurs.
WT: How far off are your goals?
TEMPLIN: I think we're beginning to realize the potential that is there already. We don't have to wait 15 years for it to happen. But [it won' be done] after 20 years. It's something we have to be constantly working at. We have the highest concentration of Internet-based companies in Northern Virginia but we have not provided them the support, nurturing, mentorship and active capital they need to be successful. This region has a unique opportunity to be seen as one of the global centers of Internet-based companies. That is [what] everyone is talking about and this is where it's happening. That's not an accident. What is new is that we have a number of entities working in the same direction rather than working against one another.