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Updated 2:46 PM May 18, 2009

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Forrest named new board chair of Ann Arbor SPARK

Vice President for Research Stephen Forrest was named Thursday as the new board chairman of Ann Arbor SPARK, the region’s economic development authority.

Forrest was elected during SPARK’s annual meeting. He succeeds Rick Snyder, who served as chairman since the organization’s formation in 2005.

"I'm happy to take on this greater level of involvement in Ann Arbor SPARK," Forrest says. "The organization is one of the keys to keeping the doors open between the intellectual resources at the University of Michigan and the business community in the region."

Forrest was appointed Vice President for Research in September 2005 and is a professor in the departments of physics, electrical engineering and computer science. He personally holds more than 185 patents and has co-founded several private companies.

He has been a driving force behind the university’s recent efforts to strengthen ties with business and industry.

“Forging new partnerships with business and industry will allow the University of Michigan to thrive during troubled times while helping to diversify and revive the state’s economy,” Forrest said in a recent interview.

“This effort to strengthen ties with industry has been a steady push for several years now, and the word is out that we strongly support this from the highest levels of the university,” he said. “And our efforts are finally starting to bear fruit.”

Highlights of those efforts include:

• The formation of the U-M Business Engagement Center last year. In its first year, the BEC assisted more than 100 businesses seeking university expertise, student talent, research partnerships and professional development for employees.

• The Office of Technology Transfer licensed 13 new business startups last year — among the highest of any university — and took in $25 million in licensing revenue. Over the last five years, the university has helped launch 49 startups. More than 70 percent of them are located in Michigan, mainly in the greater Ann Arbor area.

• Industry sponsorships for U-M research reached $43 million last year, up 11.1 percent over Fiscal Year 2007 and more than 25 percent above FY 2006.

Ann Arbor SPARK is a non-profit economic development organization that promotes business expansion, retention and location throughout Washtenaw County.

In 2008 the organization’s efforts led to: 40 new business-expansion projects in the region; $225 million in new investments in the community; the commitment of 2,033 new jobs and the retention of 1,561 jobs; 11 new businesses attracted to the region; support of 41 startups through Ann Arbor SPARK’s Business Accelerator; and more than 100 educational, networking and career-enhancement events.

The economic development group also assisted 350 regional companies with candidate searches and more than 3,000 job seekers with employment searches.

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