Empower students and researchers to learn, discover and build the solutions to our most challenging global problems.

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HERE’S a conundrum: Washington is recognized as home to titans of industry and leaders of technology — in fact, a Bloomberg study tells us that ours is the most innovative state in the country. Yet in terms of state higher-education funding per student, Washington is ranked 49th in the United States.

What this tells us is that while Washington has become a world-class industry and technology leader, we are not fully investing in our educational system. And that system is what we rely on to prepare the workers, innovators and leaders who will be critical to our continued future economic growth and success. Even if we secure more funding for our higher-education system in the coming years, we still need to change the way it runs to properly prepare our students for the future. So, just as innovation is reshaping industry and propelling Washington’s economy, we face the urgent task of innovating our state’s higher-education system.

Innovation is something happening all over our state — in higher education, in business, in government, in the media. Yet as our highly innovative city continues to find new and better ways to do things, we need to keep in mind how the public feels about those changes. This was underscored in findings from this year’s Edelman Trust Barometer, which revealed some troubling and thought-provoking findings on innovation. For example, more than twice as many people surveyed feel the pace of innovation is too fast (51 percent) versus too slow (22 percent). This should not come as too large a surprise — not since the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s have we observed such rapid change.

Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times
Gabriel Campanario / The Seattle Times

The numbers are among the findings to be discussed at a Thursday event in Seattle called “Trust in Innovation.” The event features Edelman’s national Chief Executive Richard Edelman, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, Seattle Times Publisher Frank Blethen, Porch co-founder and Chief Executive Mark Ehrlichman, along with the two of us to discuss innovation with 200 key business and community leaders.

The underlying message is that government, business, nongovernmental organizations, academia and media are all eager to embrace innovation. But it needs to happen at the right speed.

Our region has a unique opportunity to take a new approach to fostering innovation in a way that both engenders and elevates trust. The Trust Barometer research shows that this can be done by better demonstrating that innovations are safe, have been developed taking into account consumer experience and feedback, and, importantly, have a demonstrated positive impact on society.

The Puget Sound region already has a long history of collaboration among our business, nonprofits and institutions of higher education, including the University of Washington. Today, efforts such as the Global Cities Initiative under the leadership of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Urban@UW are emphasizing partnership and collaboration to take advantage of all our special assets to build and sustain a competitive Pacific Northwest region.

The UW is a research powerhouse with nearly $1.5 billion a year in federal research funding, a top 15 world ranking in research impact, and a positive annual economic impact to the state of $12.5 billion — up from $9.1 billion just five years ago. And it has continued to make important strides by innovating the very way it approaches the task of fostering innovation.

This is critical because it will have deep economic impact in the region and also create a world of good as it empowers students and researchers to learn, discover and build the solutions to our most challenging global problems. Recent initiatives include Startup Hall to help local entrepreneurs incubate ideas, a planned expansion of the computer-science and engineering program and facility, and innovating technology transfer practices to become CoMotion, a collaborative innovation hub for UW and the community.

The university also is pushing forward, as a part of Interim President Ana Mari Cauce’s Innovation Imperative, with an unprecedented initiative to partner with the world’s leading companies, universities and nonprofits to create a test bed here in our region to attract some of the most visionary faculty and exceptional students from around the world to explore the potential of new technologies.

We live in a fast-changing, complex world where success — in business and in solving today’s most difficult challenges — is increasingly dependent on our ability to bring creative people together as partners. We need to come from different disciplines, different organizations and different locations to focus on the rapid development of disruptive innovation.

Our challenge is to promote collaboration, ease the pain through open dialogue and discussion, listen to concerns, and then continue to gently move forward into a new age, to not disrupt but to evolve. As Henry Ford once said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said, ‘faster horses.’ ”

There has been no more promising time for our region to demonstrate the ability to bring to life innovations that will continue to propel our economy and make the world a better place.