Research Magazine

Auburn Research
Spring/Summer 2022
Quick Take
Steve Pelham, Associate Vice President for Economic Development
Steve Pelham
Steve Pelham

Steve Pelham has nearly 30 years of public service at the local, state and federal levels where he has served the president of the United Sates, a member of Congress, the speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives, governor, lieutenant governor and university president. He formerly served as chief of staff to the president’s office at Auburn and is currently serving as the associate vice president for economic development, serving as a member of the president's cabinet and as an advocate and catalyst for university economic development initiatives by providing leadership, management, and guidance in support of cross-campus efforts. In this interview, Pelham talks about his leadership role, Auburn’s performance and resilience, and his expectations for the university now and in the future as a significant factor in the state of Alabama’s prosperity.

What are your primary objectives in the role of associate vice president for economic development at Auburn?
As the university’s principal economic development and industry relations executive, I serve as the liaison between the university and public and private economic development entities. Management of partner relationships with stakeholders from businesses and industry, entrepreneurs, nonprofit organizations, trade associations, government agencies, communities and foundations is part of my duties. In that capacity, I work to bring the parties together as they seek to access Auburn University expertise, capabilities, business and technical services, as well as innovation, which might serve as a foundation for economic development. I also serve as Auburn’s liaison to the city of Auburn and serve on both the Auburn and Opelika Chambers of Commerce boards.

Auburn University is among the nation’s leading research universities. As such, how do you envision the university’s role as an economic development leader?
As a land grant university, economic development is one of our most important roles – it is in our DNA. In fact, two of the six of the objectives in Auburn’s five-year strategic plan focus on economic development. I see the university’s role as a four-point system that includes:

  • Talent and workforce development – education of our students;

  • Connections and partnerships – external engagement or outreach;

  • Innovation and business development — tech transfer, commercialization, entrepreneurship and business development;

  • Quality of life enhancements.

Academic discovery fuels the economic engine, and the work of Auburn researchers fosters a culture of commerce in our state. The impact of Auburn University’s research and service provides an annual $5.6 billion economic contribution to the state of Alabama.

How has the state of Alabama fared economically during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how has Auburn contributed to the state’s position and performance during this unprecedented time?
Thanks to great leadership with a plan of action, Auburn University has successfully navigated the pandemic. Financially we are sound, operating under the largest budget ever, without raising tuition. Enrollment is up, without sacrificing quality of our student admissions standards. Auburn’s research continues to grow. Auburn has fared this pandemic well and is much stronger than many other universities at this time. Much of the same may be said for the state. Revenues are at an all-time high, with record revenues for the fiscal year recently completed, the state of Alabama collected $14 billion — $1.7 billion more than the previous record fiscal year. Income and sales taxes increased significantly, reflecting strong economic growth and activity by consumers. Unemployment is currently at 3%, the lowest in the Southeast and one of the lowest in the nation. Alabama workers also experienced record wages during the pandemic.

What do you see as Auburn’s leading growth areas in the years ahead?
Our first responsibility is to educate our students and prepare them for life. That will continue to be our key mission moving forward as an institution. However, in the future I see Auburn playing a much greater role in the advancement and commercialization of innovation created at Auburn and providing sustainable solutions to key challenges. Under this model, we will become a leading center of innovation and have a greater economic impact on the state and region.

Last updated: June 02, 2022