Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Record Update First

Business start-ups, job retention addressed in URC testimony

Michigan’s University Research Corridor is working with businesses and the public like never before to transform the economy and create jobs, efforts that could be stimulated with state support, leading URC researchers told the state House Wednesday.

Rep. Ed Clemente, D-Lincoln Park, who chairs the House Standing Committee on New Economy and Quality of Life, on March 18 hosted Steve Forrest, vice president for research at the University of Michigan; Ian Gray, vice president for research and graduate studies at Michigan State University and Randal Charlton, executive director of TechTown,
Wayne State University’s research and technology park.

“There has been a rapid disinvestment in higher education from the state, yet higher education can make the whole greater than the sum of its parts,” Forrest said. “We really care about economic development in the state.”

Forrest outlined details of the Michigan Initiative for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (MIIE), which involves all 15 of the state’s public universities. MIIE receives foundation support to bridge the gap between university research and commercial development with plans to aid 200 startup companies. Such pre-seed capital is often the missing link many new businesses need to go beyond the idea stage, he added.

Forrest said the MIIE is similar to the Michigan Universities Commercialization Initiative, through which state support helped 42 startups. If the state were to partner with businesses and foundations in the MIIE, even more jobs and companies could be created at a faster rate, he said.

“Graduates follow jobs, it’s that simple,” Forrest told the committee. “The MIIE is very focused on retention and giving entrepreneurs opportunities that hold them here.”
Lawmakers and URC officials both stressed the value of reinvigorating Michigan’s entrepreneurial culture. Charlton, whose WSU tech park is home to 75 companies, added that one third of the nation’s GDP was created by businesses that are no more than five years old.

“We don’t stop at the edge of campus,” Charlton said of URC efforts. “We’re leveraging our uniqueness. We’re in the center of the economic storm and (WSU President Jay) Noren has made it clear we have to relate to the community around us.”
Clemente said he wished every member of the legislature could hear the URC presentations, particularly the focus on partnerships.

“We’re not on the U.S. map anymore,” Clemente said. “We’re on the world map as a region.”

Forrest and Gray described how U-M’s Business Engagement Center and MSU's counterparts work together and with members of the public as a one-stop-shop for connecting the business community with university resources.

“The University Research Corridor is a very necessary development and a much-needed development,” Gray said. “We’ve always worked closely but this is a much more formal development.”

The URC, an alliance of MSU, U-M and WSU, was launched by the state’s three research university presidents in late 2006 to align their resources to transform, strengthen and diversify Michigan’s economy.

Clemente, since being elected to the House in 2004, has focused on a number of job-creating measures including legislation to increase the number of grants given to job providers through the Michigan Economic Development Corp. He previously served as president of the Southern Wayne County Regional Chamber of Commerce.