Nebraska Innovation Campus Means More Jobs, Keeping Talent in Nebraska

By Mary Garbacz

UNL's Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development excited about new opportunities for Nebraska

"Number one, if a state of 1.8 million people can win national championships in football and volleyball, why not in research? Why not capitalize on research and convert that into jobs and grow our economy and keep our young people here?" asked Prem Paul, Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Keeping talented young people in Nebraska and growing the state's economy is where Nebraska Innovation Campus comes in, Paul said. Experts who specialize in the impact of research find that the majority of the impact is in the area where the inventions are produced, and that bodes well for new jobs and other opportunities for Nebraska. "We need to be confident, we need to have vision and we need to invest," Paul said.

The vision of Nebraska Innovation Campus is to create a public-private partnership that capitalizes on the expertise of UNL faculty and research growth. Studies indicate the best way to foster a public-private partnership is to have a corporate sector right next to the university, Paul said. "So there's not once-a-year or twice-a year-interaction," he said. "The professors, students, scientists from companies, they're rubbing shoulders, there's a relationship being built."

There are national precedents for this type of development, and they've been successful. One is in Silicon Valley, California; another is The Research Triangle Park in North Carolina; yet another is the creation of Google by some students at Stanford University.

"If you read about what happened in Silicon Valley...there are a number of strong universities in the area, but what it really took was creating a space near the universities where people come together to talk. All of a sudden the new ideas come and then they go back and test them out," Paul said. Silicon Valley in California was originally known as the location of many silicon chip manufacturers and now has expanded to include a concentration of various high-tech industries.

The Research Triangle Park is located in North Carolina in the tri-city area of Chapel Hill, Raleigh and Durham, home to more than three million people. The Research Triangle Park has created more than 42,000 jobs in the area.

"I think the Nebraska Innovation Campus vision is to create that type of environment, that type of space, that type of culture so the content experts in science and the business experts who know how to look at (new) products can capitalize on research and create jobs," Paul said. "When that vision is realized, it'll impact the entire state of Nebraska."

Innovation Campus
Innovation image provided by JJR


UNL Chancellor explains impact on tax base, agriculture

"Any economic growth anywhere in the state of Nebraska helps everyone in the state of Nebraska," said Harvey Perlman, Chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "Anyone who works contributes to the state tax base, so the more people there are, the less of a burden it is to each of us."

Perlman expects that tax base to expand with the implementation of Nebraska Innovation campus, which will develop 1.8 million gross square feet on the former site of the Nebraska State Fair in Lincoln. The basic concept behind Nebraska Innovation Campus is to leverage University of Nebraska research to create growth and jobs for the people of Nebraska, Perlman said. Nebraska Innovation Campus will also physically align the city and east campuses of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The development will take 20 or 25 years to complete and is expected to attract a large number of private companies, as well as government facilities. These companies will undoubtedly bring some talented people to Nebraska, but will also hire highly-trained Nebraskans, Perlman said, which will contribute to growth of the state's economy.

"A major emphasis of Innovation Campus will be food, energy and water. Those are activities that obviously, play off the importance of agriculture to the state of Nebraska," Perlman said, adding that it's reasonable to expect that some of those companies and government facilities will focus on agriculture.

"If you're in agriculture, it's just like the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources here - we do research in Lincoln, but we have facilities across the state that attempt to scale the field conditions to see whether the research is workable in the field or on the farm," he said, adding that there's every reason to think that companies who locate on Nebraska Innovation Campus could do the same thing.

The global Water for Food Institute will be located on Nebraska Innovation Campus, Perlman said. The institute has been in existence for two years, with a temporary office on the UNL city campus. In April, the university received a $50 million founding gift from the Robert B. Daugherty Charitable Foundation to allow the institute to expand its work and create more permanent offices.

"While there is a lot of work going on around the world in respect to water, there was no one location that focused on the agricultural component," Perlman said. "The hope is that the institute will have an impact by being a source for two things - one, research that relates to how we can grow more food with less water and second, to produce the human talent that is necessary across the world in order to implement that research."

NU President looks at global challenges related to university's research strengths - food, fuel and water

"We didn't get into this to compete with Silicon Valley or to compete with The Research Triangle Park," said James B. Milliken, President of the University of Nebraska. "We want to compete in areas that are important to Nebraska and the region and in areas where the university has great strength and competitive advantages - hence, the themes for Innovation Campus of food, fuel and water," he said.

"We happen to be at a great point in history that we can say these are the great strengths of the University of Nebraska, but they're also the most important issues in the world right now...the most important global challenges," Milliken said. "How we solve these issues of feeding a world population that's going to grow by 50 percent over the next 50 years, where the food demand is going to double for the world population and the same amount of land and water are available to produce the food for the world," he said. "This is something that fits tremendously well with the interests of Nebraska from Scottsbluff to Omaha."

The University of Nebraska's land grant mission includes the extension program, Milliken said. "We have four research and extension centers located across the state of Nebraska, which are hubs of intellectual activities and innovation. That's part of the strength of a land-grant institution," he said. The Morrill Act of 1862 established a land grant institution in each state. Nebraska agriculture creates the opportunity for Nebraska to be globally important in the areas of research into food production, sustainable fuel sources and techniques for conserving and sustaining the world's water.

Milliken hopes that NU can continue to play a role in creating and helping to support economic activity throughout Nebraska. "If we have robust economic activity where we have opportunities for people in Nebraska and places for our students to have internships and for our graduates to work, we don't need it just in Omaha and Lincoln; we need it throughout the state of Nebraska," he said.

Milliken said that even though people are coming into Nebraska, there are too many people who leave the state after they attend a Nebraska college or university - the "brain drain." People leave, he said, for economic opportunity; in many cases, they can't find the kind of jobs they have prepared themselves to take.

"You need the human talent; you need an educated work force; you need businesses to grow out of that; and you need new business to come to Nebraska to offer opportunities to those students," Milliken explained. "Innovation Campus is a way. It's a catalyst as much as anything."

Nebraska Innovation Campus is projected to be comprised of two-thirds private sector businesses, Milliken said. There is a great attractiveness to locating in, around or on a college campus, he said, but the main attraction is the ready source of talented people ready to take the good jobs that will be available.

The Peter Kiewit Institute in Omaha is part of the University of Nebraska system. That institute gave rise to the Scott Technology Center, Milliken said. There are businesses that are now located in Nebraska that were not here before; there is a conference center; and now the University of Nebraska-Omaha is moving its business college there, he added. Milliken expects to see the same kind of catalyst effect with Nebraska Innovation Campus.