NCSU's University Extension Service helps businesses thrive even in tough times.
by Jason deBruyn
Friday, June 24, 2011, 6:00am EDT
RALEIGH – While no one would wish for another financial crash, North Carolina State University has found a silver lining in the hazy cloud of the recession.
While NCSU is known for its curriculum, its research and even its athletics, the university’s mission always has included the extension of its expertise throughout the state through various programs.
And with the economy in turmoil, the university has been busy helping businesses and organizations across the state. In 2010, 423 companies turned to the university for help – an 18 percent increase over the 359 that came calling in 2009.
One of the busiest services is the Industrial Extension Service, or IEC, a hybrid funded with public and private money that works to help companies become more efficient. In 2010 the service worked with 231 manufacturing firms, documented more than 1,100 jobs saved and another 1,100 jobs created while saving those companies a combined $22 million, according to a report by James J. Zuiches, vice chancellor for extension, engagement and economic development.
The service also helped the companies increase sales by $190 million and assisted on $20 million in new investments, concludes Zuiches’ report.
The IEC charges for its services, but it essentially operates on a break-even basis with a $10 million annual budget, with well more than half of that coming from consulting fees.
“First and foremost, N.C. State is a university that has programs that are relevant to a lot of industries,” says Chancellor Randy Woodson. “A lot of companies are looking for ways to get an edge, so they come to N.C. State to help with a lot of their processes.”
Another fallout from the Great Recession has been a spike in the number of interns hired by companies. At NCSU, the number of students participating in internships rose by 18 percent in 2010, with 617 students contributing 418,905 hours at 222 businesses. That’s an increase from 164 companies and 521 student interns in 2009, according to Zuiches’ report.
Some of that increase is due to companies not hiring and looking for cheap or free labor, concedes Woodson, but many of those internships can turn into full-time work.
“Every student knows that what differentiates you is job experience,” and internships give you that, he says.
As for the IES, its niche is serving companies large and small by offering expertise at an attractive price.
“We work with business and industry across the state to help them innovate,” says Terri Helmlinger Ratcliff, IES executive director, adding that because the work comes from an academic institution, there is a teaching aspect ingrained in the work.
One of its bigger projects has been to make the emergency room process work more smoothly at Rex Healthcare. The hospital is owned and operated by UNC Health Care, so working with engineers from the sister school provided a nice fit.
That particular project offered NCSU grad Trip Poole a chance at a new career after his initial choice fell through. He since has authored a paper on ways of identifying and eliminating wasteful processes. And he now has a job with Premier Inc., working on ways to reduce health care costs.