"Baseball," Leo Durocher once said, "is like church. Many attend, but few understand."
Perhaps the same can be said for the activities within the arena of economic development, particularly when it comes to promoting technology-based industry in Virginia and elsewhere.
Two years ago, Gov. Charles Robb saw that something was missing in Virginia's efforts to encourage the growth of high-tech firms in the state. So he did something about it.
He successfully promoted legislation to create an institute that would bring the intellectual and technical assets of our state university system to bear on industrial development. It was called the Center for Innovative Technology. It would be a link between business and higher education.
Now, this sounds simple enough if you haven't ever tried it. The trouble is that leaders in the corporate world and those inhabiting the academic world march to a different cadence.
The dichotomy is an old one: the tradition of business research is to increase the intake of greenbacks; the tradition of university research is to increase the content of brain cells. One is inclined to applied research, the other to basic research.
Still, both business and academia share an appetite for technological advancement, and the two need not feed at separate tables. Thus, the CIT has tried to draw together these disparate but powerful forces.
But has CIT done its job?
Without a doubt.
The CIT has set up engineering clinics to help medium-sized and small businesses. Programs have been designed to help firms to provide equipment to the new Continuous Beam Accelerator Facility in Newport News. The CIT has established two biotechnology, two computer-aided engineering and two materials science laboratories to assist industry-originated projects. Another new initiative will bring entrepreneurs and academics together to build up expertise in coal research, chip research and electro-optics research.
In fact, in two years' time, the Center for Innovative Technology has initiated 166 research projects involving 70 different companies. That's not exactly shabby.
But should the CIT be deemed a success and granted immunity from criticism? No. As with any new, creative mechanism, it takes a little tuning to make it hum. Criticism helps.
Yes, CIT President Robert Pry is leaving, and a replacement is forthcoming. Dr. Pry is an able man. He was just not, as was once said in Oz, a very good wizard.
In a time of intense and unprecedented economic competition, a new venture such as the CIT needs a little wizardry, as well as an awareness of the success already achieved in linking academic research to industrial innovations.