Letter from the president: It’s time to renew the Third Frontier

Lester Lefton

May 4, 2010, will not only be a date of historical significance for Kent State University, it will be one of our state’s most important and far-reaching primary election days in recent memory. That is because the May 4 ballot will ask Ohioans to vote on Issue 1, a proposed renewal of Ohio’s highly successful Third Frontier program.

The Ohio Third Frontier is a public-private partnership created in 2002 with bipartisan leadership and support. The program’s goal is to establish Ohio as a leader in innovation, create jobs in Ohio and fuel long-term, technology-based economic growth. It benefits companies that foster innovation and the resulting economic impact of high-technology enterprises.

One of the most significant events in Ohio history was the passage of the Ohio Third Frontier program. Since voters first embraced this initiative, money has flowed to research universities such as Kent State to support cutting-edge research that translates into innovation and economic development. And, most importantly, the Third Frontier has created 41,300 jobs.

I believed then and I believe now that the Third Frontier program is the best investment Ohio has ever made in creating good jobs. It has been investment in Ohio’s research universities that has yielded major, measurable benefits. For example:

• Researchers at Kent State’s Liquid Crystal Institute are exploring new frontiers in biologically relevant liquid crystals. A recent $15-million Ohio Third Frontier award is funding a public-private initiative of universities and enterprises titled “Research Cluster on Surfaces in Advanced Materials.”

• An award of $1.6 million to the Liquid Crystal Institute was made to lead a project collaborating with several area companies, including Kent Displays and Hana Microdisplays, to advance flexible plastic capabilities. The research from this project provides prototyping capabilities for producing sophisticated optical and electronic devices on flexible plastic.

• A partnership between Kent State and the Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy, made possible by a $3 million Ohio Third Frontier grant, is developing a technology company incubated at Kent State’s Centennial Research Park. The grant supports future expansion of Crystal Diagnostics, Inc., which licenses biosensor technology developed by Kent State and NEOUCOM researchers.

In addition, Kent State is a partner in a $5 million state grant received by Kent-based AlphaMicron, Inc. The funding, a Third Frontier grant from the engineering and physical sciences research and commercialization program, was a three-year award for adaptive window technology and involves Kent State and NASA.

The Third Frontier initiative has provided Kent State with more than $20 million in research funding to date. Issue 1 would authorize $700 million in additional bonds for the program. Those bonds will help fund “innovations centers” at state universities (I could, of course, produce a long list of excellent candidates on our campuses); will support the kind of high-tech, start-up firms that Kent State has been so successful in spawning; and will expand access to good jobs in emerging fields such as alternative energy, biomedicine and liquid-crystal technology (again, Kent State strengths).

As I see it — and as many academic, business and government leaders from both parties see it — the continuation of the Third Frontier initiative is a smart investment in the future of Ohio and in the future of universities engaged in the kind of pioneering research that is underway across our eight campuses. I can’t think of a better reason to exercise the privilege of voting.

I encourage you to visit www.ohiothirdfrontier.com and www.UnitedForJobsOhio.com to learn more about the Third Frontier and Issue 1.

Lester A. Lefton, Ph.D.


Kent State University