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Amid budget cuts, University Research Corridor coalition fosters growth

Allison Kruske/Daily
University President Mary Sue Coleman and Michael Finney, president and CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, take part in a University Research Corridor panel discussion in Novi, Mich. on Monday, March 21. The panel members talked about the URC’s past and future roles in economic growth in the state. Buy this photo

BY KAITLIN WILLIAMS
Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 21, 2011

NOVI, Mich. — University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman and Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon joked yesterday about the heated competition between the two universities’ sports teams.

Despite the athletic rivalry, the presidents agreed the University Research Corridor — a research partnership between the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Wayne State University — is one way the universities succeed together.

“… It’s not about a final score like a sporting event,” Simon said. “It is about us celebrating the differences that we have and the way they can collaborate.”

Coleman added that healthy competition between the two schools and the ultimate collaboration they share through the URC benefit both institutions.

“I think the competition among us actually makes us better individually,” said Coleman to an audience of about 100 business leaders and other state university officials at a panel discussion in Novi, Mich. yesterday.

Coleman, Simon together and WSU President Allan Gilmour and Michael Finney, president and CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, came together to discuss the collaboration of the three universities through the URC and the corridor's 2010 annual report.

In an interview before the panel discussion, Coleman said the economic impact of the URC has grown significantly since 2006, generating a net economic impact of more than $14 billion.

“I think it’s been both internally important and externally important for us to be able to promote this strength, which is a real asset to the state,” Coleman said.

Coleman commented on how the current state budget cuts facing Michigan’s public universities might affect the URC. With the proposed 15-percent reduction to higher education funding — as outlined in Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget — Coleman said innovation is needed now more than ever.

“Clearly the economic times of the state are such that we know that there has to be new activity,” Coleman said. “We have to attract talent, we have to keep talent, we have to provide ways for the companies to interact with the universities, we have to provide the opportunity for students to learn how to be entrepreneurial, we’ve got to promote innovation because that’s going to be the 21st century economy of Michigan.”

During the talk, Coleman discussed several important milestones the URC has made in the past year.

The URC partnered with Business Leaders for Michigan this fall to launch Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition, a competition which aimed to make Michigan one of the foremost states for economic development. Additionally, the corridor generated more than $1.6 billion in research activity in the past year, which brought $917 million in federal funds to Michigan. The URC also brings in 93 percent of research and development funding from outside the state.

Gilmour said the URC is expanding what the universities develop in terms of research, which he stressed isn’t just high-tech research.

Reaching out to students is also an important aspect of the URC, Coleman said, adding that there has been a lot of student interest in the entrepreneurship programs. She also noted her surprise that 15 percent of incoming University students last year had started their own businesses in high school.

However, Coleman stressed that the URC isn’t just for business students.

Simon said the three universities form a triangle of collective resources that make it easier for businesses to connect with students and faculty. Coleman added that the universities used to conduct the same work separately, but the URC allows for a more efficient collaboration today.

Gilmour said Michigan’s public universities currently rank 42nd in the country in the amount of state funding they receive. Simon added that one of the ways the universities can seek to stay financially afloat is by working together through URC projects, for example.

State universities could tell by the status of state revenue in recent years that there was going to be a “day of reckoning,” Coleman said, adding that she is proud of the way the University of Michigan community has stepped up to shoulder the economic burden.

Though the University will continue to construct new campus buildings and pioneer research and entrepreneurial projects, Coleman said this might be at a slower pace than in the past.

“We understand the reality, but we also understand that (Snyder) believes deeply in higher education,” Coleman said. “And we believe that when the state revenues turn around, there will be more investment in higher education across the board.”


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