By Joce DeWitt
The presidents of three universities in the Mid-Willamette Valley appeared at the monthly economic business forum held by SEDCOR Wednesday.
Steve Thorsett of Willamette University, Sheldon Nord of Corban University and Mark Weiss of Western Oregon University touted their respective school’s initiatives to promote the community’s economic development.
SEDCOR chairman George Jennings and Curt Arthur, president of commercial advisory group Sperry Van Ness, introduced the three speakers, all of whom came to their positions within the past few years.
Nord, an alum, previous employee, vice president and trustee of Corban, became president of the university in July after serving as president-elect. He spoke to the faith-based school’s ability to make changes to support development and impact its community.
“Change is in our DNA,” Nord said.
Corban is involved in local, global and universal issues, including work with Salem Alliance Church and Salem Free Clinics, making higher education available to students in remote areas of Indonesia and helping college students pay loans as the cost of higher education rises.
Just four months into his presidency, Nord said that the university is trying to “hit the ground listening” and hopes to hear from local businesses how it can do more.
“We don’t want to be a small, sleepy religious institution on the hill,” he said.
Weiss spoke to WOU’S efforts to diversify the student body with more than 400 international students, but he said 30 percent of the institution is also made up of students from Marion and Polk counties.
Numerous capital construction projects funded through private philanthropy, self support and state funding at WOU have benefited local and women-owned businesses, Weiss said.
“Western ended the fiscal year with the strongest balance sheet of all schools in the (Oregon University) System,” Weiss said.
Thorsett, a graduate of South Salem High School, said that 4,100 Willamette alumni live in Marion and Polk counties, contributing to a successful town-and-gown relationship with Salem.
“They stick around here because they like what they find,” Thorsett said.
He estimated that Willamette puts $200 million per year into the local economy. The university is distinctive in its embrace of the region, Thorsett said.
Ed Davis, senior account executive with MAPS insurance, said the session was very positive and the connection between education and local business is very important.
“I thought it was excellent,” Davis said. “It’s helpful to get into the educational process that business is not the evil empire.”
jdewitt@StatesmanJournal.com, (503) 399-6714 or follow on Twitter.com/Joce_DeWitt