Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Should the University of Minnesota

Invest in a Research Park?

The fate of the University of Minnesota Science Park — a 32-acre site for research labs and offices — remains in limbo as organizers look to the University to take the lead as they vie for federal funding.
The issue is time-critical, and progress is needed within the next six months for the park to become a reality, said Peter Bianco, a consultant on the project for five years.
The America COMPETES Act, a possible source of funding for the park, would provide $750,000 for planning and up to $300 million in loan guarantees from the federal government.
The act is currently facing the federal Board of Appropriations for approval, but if it’s passed, the University needs to be ready to submit a proposal, Bianco said.
He said competition from other academic institutions will be stiff, but the $750,000 would progress the planning of the park in a hurry.
Bianco has worked with developers, securing land for the 500,000-square-foot series of buildings that will house research labs as well as offices that companies from the private sector can lease.
The goal is to translate early stage technology coming out of the University into viable commercial entities, Bianco said.
A science park is a place where the private sector and the University can work together and create jobs and innovation, said Eileen Walker, CEO of the Association of University Research Parks.
“We could be doing so much more if we had the infrastructure here,” Bianco said.
“What we’re talking about is an interconnected community that is physically linked to campus.”
The research community would help the University attract world-class faculty and bring more research grants to the University.
Overall, this would translate into more jobs for graduate students, higher faculty retention and large corporations on campus because of the science park.
“In a perfect world, this whole thing should be led by the University,” Bianco said.
“Budget cuts are one thing, but at one point, the University just needs to kick it in gear.”
Studies have shown that the closer a startup is to its original location of research, the more likely the commercial success, Bianco said.
“This is not rocket science — there are 45 of these things in the U.S. — we are the last one, period. We shouldn’t even be talking about this,” Bianco said.
Bianco has also received approval from the state government and neighborhood associations, but one question remains: “Where is the University?”
The University supports a science park and the America COMPETES Act, but financial conditions make it difficult for the University to discuss the construction of new buildings.
“We’re excited about the project and the opportunities it presents,” said John Merritt, Vice President for Research at the University. “Given the tough economic climate, we just aren’t able at this point to have any additional financial commitments just given what’s going on with state funding.”
Bianco said it’s vital for the University to build a research park for it to stay competitive among the world’s research institutions.
“[A research park] is extraordinarily important, especially when universities have to diversify their income streams,” said Mark Bugher, director of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s University Research Park, which has been on campus for 26 years.
“Universities have to attract the best and brightest faculty, and especially younger faculty expect something like [a research park] for them to spit out ideas and intellectual property.”
The impact to the community itself is worth noting, said Bugher, adding that the indirect impact of their research park is just less than $1 billion.
“It’s the single most important economic development in the city,” Bugher said. “These companies are not only hiring graduates, but they provide students with high quality jobs that are needed in this economy.”
My comments on the article:
Ah, a science park is what we need? Google University Enterprise Laboratories. Google Elk Run.

And as to predictions about jobs, jobs, jobs from $ $ $ look at the results from the Genomic Partnership investment of $80 million: The Little Biotech Company That Wasn't - Genomics Research as a Minnesota Economic Engine?


There is a good reason for the University to be cautious about biting into this SweeTango.

We definitely need to invest in job development, but making more financial sacrifices on the altar of biomedical research in Minnesota may not be the way to go. We should invest in areas of strength and look a little more carefully into what they are.

"expect something like [a research park] for them to spit out ideas and intellectual property.”

It ain't that simple folks and statements like these are either hubristic or stupid. As Jennifer Washburn put it in her excellent book, University, Inc.:

"In fact, only a small minority of schools prove successful at licensing research to industry, despite the enormous time, energy, and money that they have devoted to such efforts in recent years. Although every university president eagerly awaits that blockbuster discovery--a cure for cancer, an inexpensive way to desalinate sea water--that would generate millions in royalties, in reality a mere two dozen universities in the entire country make significant profits from technology licensing . Many others barely break even--or lose money. The more universities try to sell politicians on the idea that they can serve as engines of economic growth, the more they are setting themselves up for failure and undermining the basis for their public support." (emphasis added)

If it weren't for Bob Vince's discovery of a blockbuster drug - long before technology development was popular - the income stream at the U would be rather small. People have to understand that replicating this great achievement will not be a simple matter and that scientists are not poised to spit out valuable intellectual property [aka blockbusters] like nickels, if only they had a science park.

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