According to Dr. Patricia A. Book, the central role of higher education in the regional economy is preparing college graduates to become business leaders and a technology-oriented labor force. However, economic growth overall is driven by productivity growth and innovation.
“Universities bring educated people and a culture focused on ideas and creativity to the regional economy,” says Book, vice president for regional development at Kent State University.
“Public research universities, like Kent State, also play a leadership role in the transfer of technology and business skills between the university and industry, which ultimately creates jobs and wealth.”
Smart Business spoke to Book about the benefits of research parks to a local/regional business community.
What is a research park? What are its objectives?
A university research park is a property-based venture. Typically, it involves a property that has been master-planned primarily for research and development facilities (both public and private), technology and science-based companies, and support services. Tenants have contractual, formal or operational relationships with one or more university research institutions.
Through industry partnerships, these parks promote the university’s research and development, assist in the growth of new ventures and promote economic development. In general, they play a strong role in promoting technology-led economic development in the region.
University-based research parks are intentionally designed to foster an innovative, interdisciplinary environment for learning, discovery and engagement that leads to intellectual excitement, scientific achievement and economic growth and opportunities. The parks offer a complementary mixture of opportunities that include new ventures, industry and government cooperation, student internships and employment opportunities.
A research park may be not-for-profit or for-profit, owned wholly or partially by a university or a university-related entity. The park also may be owned by a non-university entity but have a contractual or other formal relationship with a university, including joint or cooperative ventures between a privately developed research park and a university.
Nearly half of all research parks nationally are university-affiliated, nonprofit entities. About 60 percent of them most of which were built 15 to 25 years ago include a technology incubator or accelerator. Varying in size from about 4.5 acres to 7,000 acres, they are now a permanent part of higher education's landscape.
Biotechnology/pharmaceutical companies are the most dominant participants in research parks, followed by software/information technology, computers/electronics and aerospace/defense. These align well with the industry in Northeast Ohio.
A regional approach to economic development aligns nicely with university-based research park development and technology acceleration. Intermediaries that support these developments include Jump-Start for venture capital, TeamNEO for business recruitment, NorTech for high-tech companies and Bioenterprise for bioscience start-ups. Kent State's FLEX-Matters Accelerator, developed in partnership with NorTech and Kent Displays Inc., is a perfect example of this kind of regional collaborative approach.
What do these research parks offer corporate partners? How can corporate partners take advantage of their benefits?
Research parks offer corporate partners space to incubate or accelerate their companies. Other benefits include:
- opportunities to collaborate with university-based scientists to invent new products or processes;
- support services to prepare business plans, including marketing, human resources and financial components;
- prototype development; and
- access to talented pools of graduate and undergraduate students.
If a company wanted to get involved, what are the first steps it might take?
I would advise the company to call the university’s economic development out-reach office and set up an appointment to tour the research park facilities to determine if they would accommodate initial and immediate space needs. If there is a match, then the company can discuss leasing arrangements.
Assuming further interest, I would advise the company to work with the university’s economic development office to set up appointments with university-based scientists to find potential collaborations between its entrepreneurial or business enterprise interests and faculty research.
Our office can connect the company with business development services and facilities, such as a clean room for research and product development, prototyping facilities, analytical services, or corporate development and small-business development services. Because universities also seek student internship opportunities, we typically make those matches, as well.
What kind of monetary investment is required for a company to participate?
The investment generally would be in leasing needed space, because part of the concept is that support services are already in place.
Some research parks are major property ventures and companies can actually build on the land, or they just might rent a couple thousand square feet. Space demands and thus lease/build costs vary widely.
DR. PATRICIA A. BOOK is vice president for regional development at Kent State University. Reach her at (330) 672-8540 or email@example.com.