URC fuels new industries

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Toyota Motor Corp. is investing $100 million in a new R&D complex in the heart of Michigan's University Research Corridor. URC scientists develop bio-fuels, next generation windmills and smart sensors "doing things we couldn't imagine."

The URC partners — U-M, Michigan State University and Wayne State University — highlighted their contribution to making energy technology a robust sector of the Michigan economy in a report released Sept. 17. The report, the second since the URC's inception two years ago, noted that the URC produced an economic impact of $13.3 billion, represents 69,285 jobs and educates more students than the nation's best comparable R&D clusters.

"The knowledge economy is here, and competition in the realm of innovations and ideas will be every bit as global and as fierce as it is in manufacturing," said MSU President Lou Anna Simon. "Michigan's three internationally recognized research institutions are essential to creating the intellectual capital and the technology breakthroughs that will make our state competitive. The URC generates innovations, new technologies, and new businesses that not only provide jobs, but also improve life for all citizens of Michigan."

As soaring oil prices spur new interest in energy-related R&D, the report chronicled how the URC partners are working closely with the auto industry, energy companies and the federal government to create new green technologies. The report shows the URC conducted $79.5 million in alternative energy R&D in 2007, a number expected to grow.

The energy issue is a global issue and it's skyrocketing in importance," said Wayne State President Jay Noren. "To bring these three institutions together to address this question of alternative energy has value that goes far beyond Michigan.''

Noren noted Wayne State-developed smart sensors, with uses in fuel cells as well as chemotherapy, are "doing things we couldn't imagine 20 years ago."

WSU is working with U-M researchers who are leaders in fuel cell and solar technologies as well as MSU scientists internationally known for their work in bio-fuels, he added, with each partner bringing unique strengths that together take developments to a higher level.

The report, comparing the URC with peer research university clusters in California, Massachusetts, Illinois, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, found the URC's overall research investments were $1.38 billion in 2006, $10 million more than in 2005.

The study, conducted over a four-month period by the Anderson Economic Group, found the URC slipping from 4th to 5th among the seven research university clusters for greatest amount of R&D expenditures. At the same time, the URC rose from 5th to 4th for the number of patents and climbed from 6th to 5th for the number of technology licenses.

The research found the URC is an active partner in developing and attracting new growth industries like green technology, alternative energy, life sciences, IT and nanotech.

"Industry is turning to our universities more frequently to support the innovation and new discoveries that will fuel our future," said President Mary Sue Coleman. "We expect this trend to continue."

Businesses are now investing $16.7 billion in industry-performed R&D within Michigan each year (second only to California), employing another 65,000 professionals, the report found.

A major source of talent, research and innovative ideas partnering with business and communities, the report found the URC beat all major national rivals for the number of degrees in physical science, medicine, biological science, agriculture and natural resources and was in the top three for engineering, math and computer science, business and law degrees conferred.

The $13.3 billion net economic impact represents the additional earnings to state residents caused by the operation of the three institutions. These earnings stem from expenditures by the URC universities on non-payroll items such as supplies and equipment, and those made by URC employees, students and alumni.

"These universities increased their net contribution to the earnings of our residents by $400 million over the last year, even as the Michigan economy remained in a deep slump," said Patrick Anderson, principal and CEO of the Anderson Economic Group.

For more information and the full report, go to www.urcmich.org/.