Commentary & Opinion
3:41 pm
Thu July 25, 2013

Karen Hitchcock: An Important Step In the Right Direction

A recent article by Larry Rulison in the Times Union posed the question, “Research Triangle found the right formula -- can we?”  As the article acknowledges, there is no simple answer to this question.   Champions of the concept of university–driven innovation made it happen: creative faculty and administration at North Carolina State University, Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; a committed state government; and, industry leaders who saw the competitive advantage of partnering with faculty at research-intensive universities in areas of research and development relevant to their particular product lines.  

Indeed, all these elements are critical to the kind of innovation ecosystem which will make our region (and state) economically competitive over the long run.  This nexus of research university, government (state and federal) and industry was at the heart of the vision for building the research area of nanotechnology at the University at Albany over a decade ago, and building it in such a way as to benefit the economy of our region and the state. The establishment of the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) at the University at Albany, with its undergraduate, graduate, and postdoctoral educational programs, was a recognition that workforce development was pivotal to the kind of innovation ecosystem we were trying to create.

As economic developers are well aware, the ecosystem required to support the growth of high-tech start-ups and other emerging businesses, as well as support robust university–industry research and development partnerships is multifaceted and complex, and includes such essentials as a reasonable regulatory environment and access to venture capital.  Governor Cuomo’s recently passed legislation, the Tax-Free New York Program, addresses a number of elements of critical importance to a vibrant, competitive ecosystem for innovation and economic growth here in New York.  By establishing “tax-free” zones at (or near) SUNY campuses, as well as a number of private universities, companies, especially start-ups, can benefit from the research and development partnerships they establish with the faculty of their host universities; they can access in a cost-efficient manner sophisticated equipment, even as they avail themselves of the entrepreneurial acumen of the universities’ business school faculty.  Access to the wide range of educational programs across their host universities will also provide an excellent source of interns and future employees as these resident companies grow and develop new and varied products and services. Access to the many schools and colleges which make up a major research university like the University at Albany or RPI represents a major competitive advantage for any company (start-up or established) participating in this new program.  And, kudos to the Governor and Chancellor Zimpher for recently removing the barriers which so long existed to having private sector companies operate on SUNY campuses.  Indeed, in order to realize the vision for developing our faculty’s nanotechnology research strengths with industry partners “co-located” on our own campus, in 1996 the University at Albany established a non-profit corporation (Fuller Road Management)  to hold title to university property and, hence, make it available to a wide range of small, mid-size and large businesses and industry partners.

The Tax-Free NY Program is, I believe, a major step forward in Governor Cuomo’s economic development agenda.  It represents informed public policy which recognizes and capitalizes upon the powerful synergies possible when universities and industries join together in research, development and the deployment of new technologies. The creation of tax-free zones at (and near) universities of our state will certainly attract and support the kinds of high-tech start-ups and more established businesses which will help, over time, to invigorate our state’s economy. It is, in my opinion, good public policy. It is based on a model of university-industry partnership, supported by government, which has proved successful here in the Capital Region and across the nation. It is public policy which leverages our state’s academic research and educational strengths and creates new opportunities for the attraction and retention of a vibrant private sector.

Dr. Karen Hitchcock, Special Advisor in the consulting firm, Park Strategies, LLC, was President of the University at Albany, State University of New York, from 1996-2004, after which she went on to lead Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Dr. Hitchcock has received honorary degrees from Albany Medical College and from her alma mater, St. Lawrence University. She has served  on numerous regional and national committees and task forces dealing with issues in higher education, research and economic development. While at both the University at Albany and Queen’s University, she co-hosted the popular WAMC program, “The Best of our Knowledge”.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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