Ann Arbor conference focuses on economic transformation
Posted on 10/15/2007 10:33:47 AM
More than 200 people are taking part in a two-day conference in Ann Arbor to discuss how Michigan’s public universities can be leveraged to improve the state’s economy and drive global competitiveness.
University of Michigan Vice President for Research Stephen Forrest told attendees the conference is meant to “challenge us to think hard about how to move faster toward economic diversification.”
Forrest says the University Research Corridor, linking the University of Michigan, Michigan State, and Wayne State, needs to focus on Michigan’s strengths, which he identified as Advanced Manufacturing, Health Sciences, Energy, and IT. To do so, he says, will require building stronger relationships with industry, in what UM President Mary Sue Coleman has called “partner or perish.”
Forrest says Michigan’s universities have traditionally been conservative, but the changing times require more comfort with intellectual risk-taking and more efforts on campus to encourage entrepreneurial activity from faculty and students.
He also says there is a critical need for funding to support what he called the “critical gap” between the formulation of an idea and validating it’s marketability.
Forrest’s views were echoed on video by Norman Augustine, former CEO of Lockheed Martin, who serves on the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology. Augustine says three times as much money is spent on litigation as on research, with the result that the U.S. has now fallen from first to seventh in its ability to take advantage of new developments in IT.
While the federal America Competes Act was passed to help address those shortcomings, Augustine says it’s really up to state and local officials to help companies adapt so they can be more competitive in the worldwide marketplace.
Dingell to conference-goers: educate your lawmakers
Democratic Congressman John Dingell told a conference in Ann Arbor that they have a critical role to play addressing the issues facing Michigan’s economy, but their role is not well understood by many lawmakers in Lansing. Dingell told the “Role of Engaged Universities in Economic Transformation” conference that procuring adequate funding for basic research and technology means convincing Lansing that providing funds for Michigan’s public universities is, in his words, “not expenditures, but investments.”
According to Dingell, some lawmakers don’t understand the role universities play in developing new products for the marketplace and spinning off new businesses and new jobs for the economy. He says research work at universities has also been hampered by philosophy, citing religious points of view that have imposed restrictions on stem cell research at the University of Michigan.
Pointing to Route 128 in Massachusetts, Dingell says the climate was right for an explosion of growth in IT industries. He challenged the University Research Corridor to lead a similar effort in Michigan. “You have the ability to create that climate,” Dingell said, saying government is looking for the best programs and support from the private sector to help build American competitiveness against the larger world.
But he also warned them that getting a program passed, like the federal America Competes Act, isn’t enough. The program, approved overwhelmingly by Congress this summer, has not yet been funded. Dingell says a key is to convince lawmakers, both in Lansing and in Washington, that the future of the Michigan and U.S. economies is based on technology and innovation.
Dingell says while “lean and mean” is the prevailing point of view in Lansing, he doesn’t think that view serves public universities well. He says the universities, and the URC, need to step up and show that they can lead Michigan out of the current mood of doom and gloom, and provide the will to address the economic issues facing the state.
Speaker Urges Stronger University-Business Partnerships
Charles Vest is clear.
"The mission of a public university is to create opportunities," he says.
And he told a conference in Ann Arbor the universities must become serious partners with government and industry to fuel research, transfer knowledge, and help create new businesses.
Vest is the President of the National Academy of Engineering and President Emeritus of M.I.T. and keynoted the “Role of Engaged Universities in Economic Transformation” conference in Ann Arbor, which continues Tuesday.
Vest says in the 20th Century, technology was focused on physics, electronics, high speed communication and high speed transportation. He sees the 21th Century emphasizing biology, energy, environmental, health and information issues.
One frontier, he says, is “microscopic,” where biotech, nanotech and IT are seeing a merger of science and engineering and an emphasis on smaller, faster, and more complex.
The other frontier, says Vest, is “macrosopic,” with an emphasis on worldwide issues like energy, water, sustainable resources, and health care. Here, the emphasis is on larger and more complex and science must work hand-in-hand with the social sciences and the humanities to develop bio-based materials, biofuels, and personalized predictive medicine.
An avowed supporter of an “open source” approach, Vest called for the creation of “Knowledge Integration Communities”, where people from government and the entrepreneurial community are engaged in the early stages of university research. He says such groups can help develop new technologies for market more quickly.
While he says most new jobs will come from small and medium-sized companies, Vest also encouraged a limited number of strategic alliances between university researchers and large companies, citing M.I.T.’s alliance with DuPont in biological research. He says trust and communications are keys to making such partnerships both productive and rewarding.
Vest told the conference that public universities play an important role providing what he called “convening power” – a place where people can come together to talk through issues and network with each other. He identified a second role as knowledge transfer, by producing graduates and sharing faculty. He also says public universities have the potential – largely unexplored – to elevate the quality of K-12 education in the community.
Public school education is a key concern for Vest, who said only 15% of high school graduates in the U.S. are prepared to pursues science and engineering degrees at the university level. He says more teachers are needed in the classroom who have math, science and technical degrees and who can inspire the next generation of students to pursue a career in technology.
Vest is also concerned about the state of connectivity in the U.S. He says the country is falling behind when it comes to broadband access, and needs to invest an additional $10 billion dollars a year to improve basic infrastructure if companies are to operate effectively in a global economy.
Elsewhere Monday, the three universities announced:
-- that the former Traverwood offices and laboratories of Pfizer Inc. have been converted into a wet lab incubator that is already filling up, and that MSU has similar plans for a former Pfizer facility in Holland. Also, Ann Arbor Spark is establishing two additional office incubators in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti and is working with 31 startup businesses that have or plan to move into one of their three business accelerators.
-- That UM and Wayne State would join forces to form STIET (Socio-Technical Infrastructure for Electronic Transactions), a multi-disciplinary research-education program involving corporations like Google, Yahoo and IBM to train the PhDs who will transform the Internet into one that is speedier, more secure and spam-free. Simultaneously, they are developing new technology to make it easier for the best and brightest minds to collaborate, creating virtual classrooms and laboratories that enable faculty and students to share classes and laboratory assets seamlessly. Key to the effort is Michigan LambdaRail, an ultra high speed fiber optic network developed by the universities.
-- That all three universities are working to greatly expand research related to a highly promising industry: alternative energy. MSU this summer received a $50 million grant to help establish the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center and this fall opened a $10 million alternative energy research center. Meanwhile, Wayne State has established the National Biofuel Energy Lab and lured NextEnergy to its TechTown development while U-M has established the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Energy Institute, part of a $35 million per year investment in energy research.
Building upon a promise to increase partnerships, the URC has recently announced a number of outreach efforts across the state including:
--Working with 20 other Michigan colleges and universities to establish the Michigan Higher Education Recruitment Consortium to attract and retain talent in the state
--Partnering with community hospitals in the landmark National Children's Study.
--Establishing offices for UM and MSU Detroit-based research and outreach efforts. Their locations, close to the Wayne State campus, further aid the ability to collaborate.
The presidents Monday also released the first annual report on the progress of the URC. A pdf version of the report is available at: http://www.urcmich.org/commentary/2007AnnualReport.pdf
For more on the University Research Corridor and other URC initiatives, visit: www.urcmich.org
Who should shake state out of rut?
October 16, 2007
BY TOM WALSH
FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
Michigan has no excuse for not being a thriving leader in the knowledge-based, environmentally conscious global economy of the future.
We have fresh water and lots of other great natural assets.
We have a rich history of innovation and entrepreneurship, from automotive pioneer Henry Ford to pizza peddlers Tom Monaghan and Mike Ilitch.
We have a wealth of engineering talent and some of the top research universities in the world.
But we're lazy. Complacent. We have a sense of entitlement and no sense of urgency.
Watching the levees break
Those were but a few of the words and phrases used to explain Michigan's current sad state of economic affairs Monday during the first day of a 2-day conference in Ann Arbor entitled "The Role of Engaged Universities in Economic Development," sponsored by the University Research Corridor alliance of University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University.
"Our" Hurricane "Katrina has been out on the horizon for a generation, and we just watched it come," said Rick Snyder, CEO of venture capital firm Ardesta in Ann Arbor, and former president of computer maker Gateway Inc.
Of five things necessary to propel a local economy for takeoff, Snyder said, Michigan is well positioned in technology and has a decent infrastructure. But in the three key areas of capital, talent and culture, "We're flashing red for crisis. We must make major improvements."
The state lacks a well developed venture capital network to seed and nourish new business formation and growth, and even the state's major institutions invest much of their money out of state, Snyder said. And many graduates of Michigan universities leave the state after college.
Sense of entitlement
Culture, Snyder said, "is our biggest problem." Michigan's tremendous industrial success through much of the 20th Century left many of its people with a sense of complacency and entitlement, an assumption that good jobs and wealth always would be available. And even though the impact of automation and global competition has been evident for several decades now, Michigan's response has been tepid, he said.
Mark Murray, president and CEO of Meijer Inc., the Grand Rapids-based retail chain, echoed Snyder's assessment.
"I don't sense the state of urgency that's needed for Michigan to recover as well as it should," said Murray, a former state treasurer and budget director under former Gov. John Engler.
Snyder said the state's political leaders, as is clear from the recent budget battle and tax hikes, have shown virtually no leadership to help pull Michigan out of its no-growth economic stagnation of the past seven years.
Therefore, Snyder said, it's important that the state's major universities show economic leadership by boosting their community involvement.
Derrick Kuzak, group vice president of global product development for Ford Motor Co., made a similar point on a national scale, suggesting that academia join with the automotive industry to push for a rational U.S. energy policy, since the politicians in Washington, D.C., have failed to do so.
"The auto industry will make fundamental changes to reduce its carbon footprint. It's a social responsibility and a business imperative," he said, but it would be much better to have scientists armed with data making key decisions rather than politicians acting on whims.
Filling the leadership void
Are Michigan's major universities ready to step up to a more activist role in fostering economic growth, including a more direct role in local and national politics?
It's not something that comes naturally.
The University of Michigan has long existed as an intellectual outpost, in many ways a world apart from the hurly-burly of industrial Detroit, although Ann Arbor and downtown Detroit are virtually the same distance along I-94 from Metro Airport.
And MSU, WSU and all the other state universities depend in part on the largesse of government for financing. Can they afford to take bold, sometimes controversial positions on issues in those many areas where business and economics meet public policy?
If not our big prestigious universities, who will step forward to lead Michigan's complacent people and hapless politicians out of the economic wilderness?
Contact TOM WALSH at 313-223-4430 or email@example.com.