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Sunday, 17 February 2013 22:00

State’s research institutions broaden impact

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Mason Mason

Michigan’s big three research universities grew their combined economic impact to more than $15.5 billion annually by 2011, while maintaining their standing among peers as one of the top research clusters in the nation.

The annual report from the University Research Corridor — a collaboration between Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University — also shows the three exceeded $2 billion in annual research and development spending for the first time.

Moreover, the universities increased the number of startup companies cultivated from university research. R&D funding grew 46.0 percent in five years, or by $631 million, and by 6.6 percent from 2010 to 2011.

“Michigan’s economic success is vital to our students’ ability to get good jobs when they graduate,” MSU President Lou Ann Simon said. “We’re deeply committed to continuing our efforts to help Michigan’s businesses innovate and grow by providing the research and talent they need.”

Yet as URC members did more during the five-year period, so did the six well-established research clusters it’s compared against in the annual analysis by the East Lansing-based Anderson Economic Group. Those clusters included Southern California, Northern California, Illinois, North Carolina, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

Despite the growth since 2007, the URC still ranked fifth among national research clusters in the number of startup companies formed, fourth in U.S. patents issued and fifth in licenses issued for university-developed technologies, according to the Anderson Economic Group.

Those findings illustrate that as Michigan’s URC makes progress, so do research clusters in other states, URC Executive Director Jeff Mason said.

Across the URC and the research clusters with which it’s compared, for example, R&D spending grew 6.1 percent from 2010 to 2011 to $61.18 billion from $58.33 billion, according to the Anderson Economic Group.

“You can’t declare victory or success. This is a marathon and not a sprint,” said Mason, arguing for continued public support for the three public research universities as Michigan reshapes its economy. “The efforts of those universities can truly help transition this state’s economy and that doesn’t happen overnight. We have to be relentless about pursuing that.”

The URC formally came together in 2006 to leverage the assets and research capabilities of the three. The organization issued its first report a year later that looked at how the URC stacks up against other leading research clusters in the U.S. such as Silicon Valley in northern California or the North Carolina Research Triangle.

“We said, ‘If we want to be considered one of the premier research clusters around the nation, we have to back it up,’” Mason said. “The numbers back it up.”

The data collected annually by the Anderson Economic Group indicate the URC is gaining on its peers in some areas, “holding our own” in others and overall is accomplishing its goals, Mason said.

“We’re realizing that today and some results from it,” he said.

Mason specifically notes that URC members have slowly but steadily grown the number of degrees granted annually, including in high-demand areas of computer science, business and engineering.

In 2011, 8,937 of the 31,683 undergraduate and graduate degrees granted by URC members were in the three high-demand professions. That compares with 8,760 of 31,242 degrees granted in 2010.

“We are producing the talent that Michigan companies need to compete and need to be successful,” Mason said.

The $15.5 billion in economic impact that URC members generated in 2011 represents a 20-percent increase from the $12.9 billion in 2007 and equates to a more than 17-to-1 return on investment for the $860 million the state spent to support the three. The economic impact figure included non-payroll operating expenditures, faculty and staff wages and benefits, student expenditures and incremental alumni earnings.

As employers, URC members supported more than 74,000 jobs directly and indirectly in 2001, according to the annual report.

In the West Central Region of the state, where MSU has the College of Human Medicine in Grand Rapids and the Bioeconomy Institute in Holland, economic impact totaled $638.6 million in 2011. It was $239.3 million in the Southwest Region of the state.

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