AURP: Creating Communities of Knowledge
Consider the potential created when the science discovered inside a university or national lab and the know-how inside a high-tech business connect. Visualize a place where knowledge workers and entrepreneurs have access to shared instruments and labs, science libraries and fellow entrepreneurs with whom to work. If you add access to venture funding, you've just described the pay dirt known as a university research or science park. Today over 144,000 Americans are employed by companies in such parks across the country. In our global environment of outsourced jobs and manufacturing, the innovation and collaboration taking place in them provides a key to maintaining America's economic competitiveness.
University research and science parks are a path through which innovation flows from the lab into the marketplace. As these parks harness the power of education and research, new jobs, new industries and solutions to age-old problems are found. The world's first research park started in the early 1950s and was a seed in the creation of the community known today as Silicon Valley. Another early research park set out to stop the "brain drain" from a rural, agricultural region, which was then dependent on the tobacco industry. Today, Research Triangle Park and the area around Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina is home to many of the world's most advanced high technology businesses. These businesses employ over 40,000 people.
Research and science parks provide the launching pad that startup companies need when they are spun out from a university or larger company. Park-provided training in such areas as intellectual property and business planning help these fledgling businesses to succeed. Universities, in turn, greatly benefit from their exposure to the business world, and the "spin-in" of the business acumen and cutting-edge research being conducted outside their walls within industry. This spin-in aids faculty researchers and their universities or labs by ensuring that they are kept current on developments in their disciplines.
As research parks mature, firms that supply the original park companies locate themselves near their clients in the research park. Clusters of businesses are thus formed, establishing the basis for long-term regional success as a center of innovation.
Over 3,000 companies have chosen to place facilities in research parks, including many Fortune 100 companies such as Motorola, IBM, and Cisco Systems. These major companies seek to strengthen their research interactions with university faculty and tap the creative potential of the more that 23,000 students who intern or work in research parks.
And while both universities and companies benefit tremendously from the interns and graduates they employ, at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., students did the companies one better: they started their own firm. With support provided by the RPI incubator and research park, the students launched MapInfo Corporation, the first major desktop GIS software company. Although it was a big jump from entrepreneurship class to high tech executive success, the students propelled MapInfo into a $150 million business. Today MapInfo employs more than 900 people worldwide.
While the creation of new jobs and the education of students is vitally important, research and science parks also help solve complex problems by supporting collaborations between universities, businesses and government. In the Purdue Research Park in West Lafayette, Ind., Purdue University and Eli Lilly Company are working together in a partnership that also includes the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among others. As part of the program, the Chao Center for Industrial Pharmacy and Contract Manufacturing in the park helps combat multi-drug resistant tuberculosis in developing nations. Each year nearly 400,000 people develop the disease, (in part due to incomplete medical treatment of regular tuberculosis), and each infected individual goes on to infect an average of nearly two dozen other people. To fight this, the Chao Center works with pharmacists from developing countries, helping them to learn safe and effective ways to produce the specific drugs that aid in overcoming the disease. These individuals then return to their home countries and work with Lilly-licensed manufacturing companies. This greatly increases the availability of effective treatment, reduces cost, and saves lives.
The highly educated knowledge workers of today have the ability to choose where, when and with whom they will work. They seek out communities where they will find like-minded individuals, and locations that are conducive to their creative output and preferred lifestyle. Research and science parks, by establishing environments in which creativity, learning and innovation are paramount, are places where knowledge workers can join together, have access to the latest technology, and fuel innovation.
As the vanguard of global competitiveness, university research and science parks pioneered the concept of technology and innovation as an economic development tools. Today's parks continue to improve on this successful endeavor.
Eileen Walker is the AURP program director.