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Updated 10:00 AM October 31, 2007
 

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U. encourages global outreach, innovation to aid local economy

Vice President for Research Steve Forrest constantly is moving. His mission: harnessing University research and expertise to make a difference to the world and help transform Michigan's economy.

"All the planets are aligned right now to make a quantitative change,'' Forrest says. "This is the time to really make something happen.''

Forrest, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science, physics and materials science and engineering who holds 165 patents, recently spearheaded efforts to re-write University policies to rapidly speed up and improve technology transfer.

From the highest reaches of U-M, faculty are being encouraged to work with industry to get their ideas out globally and to form their own companies or pursue other efforts to get their ideas into the marketplace. His office also is setting up awards and events to encourage and stimulate more innovations and research.

"We're trying to make it as easy as possible,'' Forrest says.

Details of the office's new Industry Toolkit are available at: www.research.umich.edu/industry/index.html.

Since arriving at U-M Jan. 1, 2006, from Princeton University, Forrest has been organizing efforts like this month's University Research Corridor conference, "The Role of Engaged Universities in Economic Transformation.''

While the global economy presents many challenges, Forrest notes the best time to invest in a stock is when it's close to the bottom. Michigan's economic challenges in the current global economy offer many opportunities as well, he adds.

"The universities that seize those opportunities end up with the best faculty,'' he says. "It's not one country we're competing with anymore. It's the globe.''

A growing number of people are looking to the state's three research universities, U-M, Michigan State University and Wayne State University, to come up with the solutions and an agenda to move the state forward, Forrest says.

Detroit Free Press business columnist Tom Walsh says the state has been complacent for too long. But Walsh and others agree that universities, the auto industry and the UAW "get it now" and are making things change.

Efforts like the URC, designed to align research universities to stimulate Michigan's economy, as well as improving quality ratings from Michigan-based auto makers, and recent historic labor agreements are further evidence that the state is moving forward now, Walsh says.

Meijer Inc. President Mark Murray, the former president of Grand Valley State University, says the state has lacked a sense of urgency about these issues. He also notes that Michigan experienced payless paydays in 1959 and a new constitution just a few years later. Such crises, he says, bring about major changes.

Former Provost Charles Vest, who went on to become president of Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the National Academy of Engineering, sees education as the key to overcoming many obstacles the nation currently faces.

Ford Motor Co. Group Vice President Derrick Kuzak says residents can't rely on politicians to do the right thing, adding that universities have to lead the way. Universities have credibility and expertise that politicians and business people lack on important issues like global climate change, and they need to lead the charge.

U.S. Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., says he is doing everything he can to encourage further investment in research universities to keep the state and nation competitive.

"A lot of people are concerned," Forrest says. "And with that amount of concern comes change."

Watch it: "and there will be a change" is a new 5-minute video focusing on the University's efforts to use its resources to help build the knowledge economy. Go to www.umich.edu/news/index.html?Releases/2007/Oct07/urc.

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