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Herbst: UConn’s Role in Driving Economic Development

As part of its mission, UConn is responsible for fostering the kind of innovative thinking that will ultimately lead to the creation of jobs and thriving new business ventures.

This article was originally published on the UConn Today Web site on February 8, 2012.

By: Susan Herbst, University of Connecticut president

As the state’s flagship university, UConn conducts ground-breaking research, works to better the lives of Connecticut’s residents, and educates students who will become tomorrow’s leaders and scholars.

What tends to be less apparent is the vital role that a top public university such as ours also plays in contributing to our region’s economic well-being. As a leading higher education institution, UConn is also responsible for fostering the kind of innovative thinking that will ultimately lead to the creation of jobs and thriving new business ventures.

Fortunately, we are seeing the state’s recent investments in this area beginning to take shape – investments that respond to a critical need to revitalize Connecticut’s economy over the course of these next few years.

Making a Meaningful Impact

I touched briefly on some of these developments in a blog post this past October, but given recent progress with these initiatives – including securing funds for the Jackson Laboratory facility – I want to offer some further commentary about how UConn is equipped to make a truly meaningful impact on economic development throughout our region and beyond.

Connecticut’s strengths are numerous – from its prime location between New York and Boston, to the abundance of stellar higher education institutions in our midst, to the solid foundation of industry and entrepreneurship already in place here.

Imagine a Connecticut that has taken full advantages of these strengths and built upon them. A Connecticut that has reinvented itself as a home to a burgeoning biotech industry that draws even greater numbers of highly skilled, educated workers and their families here to live and work. A Connecticut that brings together emerging startup businesses with top researchers. Picture an economy that has become a destination for cutting-edge research and the premier site for specialized fields in science and technology. Perhaps envision our own kind of East Coast Silicon Valley – a hub of novel scientific expertise and flourishing industry with renowned experts working nationwide.

Legislators, businesses, community leaders, and others across the region have been taking the steps necessary to pave the way for an even stronger state, to establish a Connecticut that encourages innovation and strives to turn it into dynamic economic growth.

UConn itself has a specific role to play in bolstering the Connecticut economy as well. We want to do all that we can to help the state build on its inherent strengths.

A Vision for Connecticut

Gov. Malloy’s vision for a Connecticut Research Triangle linking Storrs, Farmington, New Haven, and points in between stands as one terrific example of where UConn can offer its support and intellectual capital.

The site of the original Research Triangle – North Carolina – today enjoys a thriving regional business climate, even while much of the country suffers from job losses. There, such renowned higher education institutions as Duke, UNC, and North Carolina State have long been at the heart of the state’s economic strategy.

Connecticut has staked out a strategy that promises the same kind of economic growth and stability that exists in North Carolina. As you are likely aware, UConn is partnering on two major components of this plan – the Technology Park in Storrs and the Bioscience Connecticut Initiative based in Farmington.

The UConn Tech Park will unite world-class researchers with men and women who are creating startup businesses. It will be designed to spark the development and commercialization of new ideas for manufacturing and advanced product development in such industries as aerospace, defense, and energy. Housing laboratories containing highly specialized equipment not readily available to industry, it will offer top academic researchers and industry scientists a space to collaborate closely, while helping to attract partners around global manufacturing and materials needs.

Put this combination of academic experts together with physicians, scientists, educators, and some of the brightest undergraduates, grad students, and post docs from UConn and elsewhere across the state, and the ingredients are there for Connecticut to assume a position of economic prominence.

Bioscience Connecticut, which will be anchored at the UConn Health Center in Farmington, will meanwhile focus primarily on leveraging the Health Center to advance Connecticut’s economic and health care goals by making the state a leader in bioscience – with Jackson Laboratory as our first partner in this endeavor.

Promoting education, state-of-the-art health care, and research innovation, Bioscience Connecticut will ensure that we keep pace with the increasing demand for physicians and dentists in our state, in part by calling for a 30 percent increase in the enrollment at our medical and dental schools.

It will bring to fruition plans to build a new patient care tower and Ambulatory Care Center at our Farmington campus and to renovate portions of the existing John Dempsey Hospital, thus helping to enhance the care our Health Center provides with even more sophisticated, cutting-edge facilities – another win-win for the citizens of this state.

This initiative also will double the University’s incubator space for startups in the field of bioscience. Currently, we have nearly two dozen companies incubating at UConn and a strong pipeline of additional requests that promise only further opportunities for the University to help support new ventures.

The Benefits of Research

Keep in mind, too, the direct impact that research has on the economy. Research brings with it new dollars and new jobs. And the resulting discoveries, patents, and licenses are also a foundation for long-term economic growth, not to mention innovative medical treatments and cures that could impact our lives and those of our children.

Bioscience Connecticut will help us get to the next level in each of these endeavors, with Jackson’s arrival in Connecticut bringing with it unique genetics expertise that will meld with the work of UConn’s own researchers and physicians.

Together, the Technology Park and Bioscience Connecticut have set UConn on a course toward increased job creation – in construction, high-tech, and health care fields – essential to renewing our state’s economy.

Of course, we also look forward to the development of many more products, companies, and jobs, originating from Yale, Wesleyan, and the many other excellent institutions across this region.

I am incredibly optimistic about all of these projects and know that the University is energized about its role in expanding on all that has already been accomplished in reinventing Connecticut’s economy for the long term.

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