The new president of Virginia's troubled Center for Innovative Technology said yesterday he wants to revamp the size and scope of the Northern Virginia facility in an effort to win support from business, university and political leaders.
"Some of the things I can answer now are going to be very exciting for George Mason University" in Fairfax County, said Ronald E. Carrier, who took over as head of the center in April in an effort to rescue the $30 million project begun under former governor Charles S. Robb. The center, located near Dulles International Airport, has been criticized by a wide range of business and political leaders for failing to clearly define its role.
"For several years I was concerned about the future of the CIT because its mission was not clear to anybody," said Northern Virginia Community College President Richard J. Ernst, who attended a meeting with Carrier in Richmond Monday. "What we heard . . . is the first clear statement of CIT that has been presented."
Carrier said his plans, which must be approved by the center's board of directors next month, include developing 15 regional centers around the state to involve state universities and community colleges in the research that the CIT hopes to secure from business and government sources.
Carrier's plan, which would require new state funding and approval by an increasingly skeptical legislature, also includes scaling back an ambitious project to build three buildings near Dulles, a move that would save about $2.6 million.
"You can try to become world class . . . , " said Carrier, adding that the center will be geared toward funneling research that will aid both developing high-tech industries and assisting some of the state's older industries, such as manufacturing. It will make a $10 million effort to help the established industries modernize and adapt to new technologies, he said.
In addition, Carrier said he wants the CIT to help colleges and universities develop programs to better train workers.
Carrier, president of James Madison University in Harrisonburg, is on a one-year leave of absence to help restore the center's battered image. On Monday, he spoke to a group of university presidents meeting in Richmond and said he is attempting to get the State Council of Higher Education in Virginia, the administrative and lobbying arm of higher education in the state, to support state funding of the regional centers.
Patsy Brown, spokeswoman for the CIT, said yesterday Carrier's plans are still being prepared for a CIT board meeting scheduled for July 26-27 in Charlottesville. Brown said the weekend meeting would be the first full-scale effort of the board to review the CIT's current strategy.
"You can't do that in two-hour meetings, four times a year," Brown said.
Asked if the revised plans were part of Carrier's efforts to redirect about $20 million in construction funds as well as revive business support for the CIT project, Brown said: "Certainly."
When the CIT was proposed by Robb in 1983, many state leaders from outside Northern Virginia feared its placement in the Washington suburbs would shortchange universities and communities in other parts of the state.
Robb's administration was forced to compromise on how the board would be set up, including adding legislative members to the CIT board of directors. More recently, the CIT was criticized for failing to clarify its role in promoting business research.
Robert Pry, the first president of the CIT, resigned after 18 stormy months in which he was criticized for poor administration, a lack of political sophistication in dealing with legislators and university presidents and excessive secrecy over how the CIT was spending state funds.