Georgia Research Alliance – funder of life-saving research – turns 30

Thirty years ago – on June 6, 1990 – the inaugural board meeting of the Georgia Research Alliance took place – a pivotal moment for universities, the state and businesses.

The fruits of the research conducted with funds from the Georgia Research Alliance, the private sector, state and federal government is now paying priceless dividends.

More than a dozen scientific initiatives are underway in Georgia to study, treat or prevent the deadly coronavirus – only one example of the impact GRA has had on our state.

David Ratcliffe, retired CEO of the Southern Co. who is chair of GRA’s board (for the second time), described it as “three decades of hard work and extraordinary success that hasn’t gotten enough publicity.”

In a telephone interview on Friday, Ratcliffe said it is important for us to remember the leaders who founded GRA 30 years ago. They created a new economic development model – to attract top scientists and their labs to Georgia in the same manner that the state would try to recruit new industry.

The model worked, and other states took notice and tried to replicate it. The model creates a partnership between Georgia’s public and private research institutions, top business leaders and the state government.

“We’ve gotten more credit outside of Georgia than we have in Georgia,” Ratcliffe said. “It has put Georgia on the map.”

Ratcliffe said GRA has not always received the support it deserved. The past two governors –Sonny Perdue and Nathan Deal – “were not as passionate as some of their predecessors.”

But Ratcliffe added that Gov. Brian Kemp understands and appreciates the role GRA has played. It’s just that he is now “consumed” with the dual crises of COVID-19 and the current protests.

Fortunately, the investment in the scientists and research is paying off.

“They are on the front lines of COVID research,” Ratcliffe said. “Look how important the research we’ve done has been to the nation and the world.”

In a letter to his fellow trustees on June 5, Ratcliffe wrote:

As you read this, Georgia’s university scientists are at work on vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to battle the highly infectious COVID-19 disease. The contributions they’re making are significant and impressive.

He also paid tribute to the original founders of GRA.

I take delight in following threads from the first days of GRA. Tom Cousins and Lawrence Gellerstedt, Jr. were the early guiding lights; Tom remains an Emeritus Trustee, and the Gellerstedt family’s involvement continues with Larry Gellerstedt III, a current trustee and past chair. The same is true of the Russell family. Herman was on that first board of trustees, and his son Michael serves today. Also serving on the inaugural board was Bradley Currey, Jr., who continues to be a presence at our meetings, sharing wisdom and insight. And an initial $500,000 grant to establish GRA’s operations came from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation, which back then was led by Pete McTier, our current secretary-treasurer.

GRA has had three presidents in its 30-year history: Bill Todd, Mike Cassidy and Russell Allen.

Ten years ago, GRA published its 20-year history. Here is a link to the abbreviated version

The Alliance shared some examples of how GRA-backed researchers and entrepreneurs in Georgia are applying their expertise and ingenuity against the coronavirus.

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