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Thursday, June 01 2017
A Research Park's Secret Weapon -  The Community College as a Tenant and Partner

By Kate McEnroe, President of Kate McEnroe Consulting

When we hear the term research park, the automatic tendency is to think of our largest private and state institutions, those that receive major research grants.

It has now become almost the standard for major universities to create parks to foster technology transfer and economic development initiatives, not to mention the benefits they bring to the university in attracting gifted faculty and students.

Just as research parks are usually associated with institutions offering four-year and graduate programs, the discussions about the need for an increase in the STEM workforce also tends to focus on boosting the number of individuals with bachelors, masters, or doctorate degrees.

In both cases, examples are emerging that illustrate the value of community and technical colleges and their graduates, both as partners in research parks and as sources of valuable STEM graduates in programs that terminate in associates degrees and certificates. These graduates are in high demand by the same innovative companies that are typically founded and grow in a research park environment. In addition, community colleges have typically been the delivery channels for state supported training assistance offered to growing companies and are home to technology centers that incorporate the type of tools and machinery that will be necessary to take innovative processes and products to scale across a wide variety of industries. Companies are valuable partners in successful communities efforts to streamline the transition from K-12 to higher education options and to provide opportunities for adult learners to enhance their skills or re-direct their careers.

As part of its annual education agenda, the Association of University Research Parks (AURP) traditionally holds a session to introduce interested communities to the basics of establishing a research park. This year, in 2017, the session is called “Creating Communities of Innovation 101” and will be held in late September in Huntsville, Alabama at Cummings Research Park. Carol Stewart, AURP Board Member and Business Development Director at the David Johnston Research + Technology Park at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada indicated that in recent years the session has attracted increasing numbers of representatives of community colleges.

According to the AURP, a classic university research park fulfills the following functions:

  • Master plans property designed for research and commercialization
  • Creates partnerships with universities and research institutions
  • Encourages the growth of new companies
  • Translates technology
  • Drives technology-led economic development

While most community colleges that have become associated with a research park may not directly engage in research partnerships with tenant companies in the same way that a university does, there does appear to be indications that proximity, whether strategic or by happenstance, leads to relationships and programs that benefit the innovative companies, the colleges themselves, and the students during their college years and beyond.

Exploring the connections between research parks and community colleges reveals no dominant model for co-location or collaboration. In fact, in many cases the presence of a community college on the grounds of a research park has originally come about as more or less a convenient real estate play. Over time, however, some examples have emerged that are more intentional and strategic, with a community college campus as part of the original park design and mission. Here are some examples of how these relationships originated and are playing out today:

Community College Co-Located with a Tech Park  
Springfield (MA) Technical Community College (STCC) is one of the only community colleges in the country with a tech park. Both the college and the Springfield Technology Park are located on the site of the original Springfield Armory, which was first visited, then founded in 1794 by President George Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox.  It was decommissioned by Secretary Robert McNamara in 1969. Near that time, STCC was set up as the first technical community college in the Commonwealth, a distinction it holds to this day. After a major manufacturer on the site closed down, the park was established in the mid-1990s as a tech park to support the mission of the college and the economy and quality of place of the local neighborhood. Today, seventy percent of the tenants of the park are in the technology or engineering services industry. While there are no formal research partnerships between the park and the college in the classic sense, both entities benefit from the close proximity to one another.  The college has located its mechanical engineering technology program within the 15-acre park site itself and employers inside the park and beyond draw on STCC students and graduates as employees.  Liberty Mutual located a call center in the park in 2008, and the adjacent presence of STCC was a positive factor in bringing the project to Springfield.  Fulfilling another of AURP’s criteria, STCC operated and coordinated a number of programs over the years to encourage new company formation and growth. In 2002, the college’s entrepreneurship program spun off into the National Association for Community College Entrepreneurship (NACCE), which continues to be located in the park and now has over 300 member colleges across the United States and Canada.

Community College as Tenant of a University Research Park
Since 1996, Calhoun Community College in Alabama has claimed the distinction of being the only two-year campus located in a major university research park. It is located in the Huntsville/Cummings Research Park and by some measures the second largest research and technology park in the United States, and also Huntsville, Alabama is an area well known for its Aerospace and Defense cluster dating back to the 1950s. Calhoun Community College has its main campus in nearby Decatur, Alabama, but has had a presence in the park since 1996, and in 2016, opened a 90,000-square foot building expansion dedicated to math, science, and information technology programs.   According to Erin Koshut, Director of the Research Park, the community college serves an important role as part of the education infrastructure of the park, which includes a high school and the University of Alabama Huntsville’s campus. It fills a variety of roles, offering career-oriented programs for high school students, transfer opportunities to the university, acting as a direct source of talent for companies in the park requiring technicians and other certificate and associate level employees. In addition, the location serves as a delivery site for “Ready to Work” programs offered by AIDT, the state’s workforce delivery system, and training is offered as an incentive to new and expanding businesses in the area.

Community College as Tenant of a Not-for-Profit Private Research Park
The Danforth Plant Science Center was established in 1998 in St. Louis as a private, not-for-profit research institute. In 2009, the center partnered with Wexford Science+Technology LLC and opened the first buildings of the Bio-Research and Development Growth (BRDG) Park on the campus of the institute. St. Louis Community College was recognized as a founding tenant at the grand opening of the park. The college has a bio-technician training program at the park and also has a Life Sciences Career Pathways program aimed at bringing entry-level biotech and bio-pharma training to minority students.

Community College as a Co-Founding Partner of a Research Park
The Cyber Innovation Center serves as the anchor of the National Cyber Research Park in Louisiana, the 3,000-acre centerpiece of Louisiana’s Cyber Research Corridor, intended to provide the resources to develop this sector of the economy in Northern Louisiana. The STEM building of Bossier Parish Community College, scheduled to open in the spring of 2017, will be another addition to the first phase of development in the National Cyber Research Park. The inclusion of a STEM building within this fast-growing community college is an intentional part of a strategy to encourage and enable both first-time students and adult learners to develop the skills necessary to participate in technology-led industries. The proximity to the tenants of the park will allow for efficient customized training as well as the potential for internships, apprenticeships, or other similar programs. In addition, the Cyber Innovation Center has an academic arm, the National Integrated Cyber Education Research Center (NICERC), which serves as a nation model for K-12 STEM, Cyber, and Computer Science curricula design and professional development. The programs developed and implemented locally are now being adopted across the country. “The Cyber Innovation Center looks to develop a sustainable knowledge-based workforce that can support the growing needs of government, industry, and academia,” says Craig Spohn, President of the Cyber Innovation Center.
 
Community College as the Creator of a Research Park
Richland Community College in Decatur, Illinois is located in a community with a substantial agribusiness sector of the economy, boasting companies such as Archer Daniels Midland and Tate and Lyle as major employers. Efforts to leverage the college’s strengths in agribusiness education and strengthen connections to the businesses and entrepreneurs in the area led the college to begin development of an Agribusiness Applied Technology Park in 2009. The intent is for the park’s tenants to provide hands-on learning opportunities for students and to engage the college and nearby university faculty in commercialization initiatives. There are currently three buildings in the park including the Center for Sustainability and Innovation, the Macon County Soil and Water Building, and the National Sequestration Education Center (NSEC). Tenants of the NSEC include the Department of Energy, Schlumberger Carbon Serices, Archer Daniels Midland, and the Illinois State Geological Survey.

The College is also adjacent to Progress City USA, a large outdoor meeting facility, and the two sites host, in alternate years, the Farm Progress Show.

These five community colleges are just of few of many that are executing strategies to align themselves directly with research parks and their educational and corporate tenants, using physical co-location inside the parks as a way to facilitate seamless integration and collaboration. Parks that offer access to community college resources provide a more complete solution to young and adult students’ educational and career aspirations and to innovative companies’ needs for technicians with early exposure to workplace realities.

About the Author
Kate McEnroe is President of Kate McEnroe Consulting and has been advising corporations on location strategy and economic development organizations on marketing strategies for over 20 years. She can be reached at kate@katemcenroe.com.

Kate McEnroe is President of Kate McEnroe Consulting and has been advising corporations on location strategy and economic development organizations on marketing strategies for over 20 years. She can be reached at kate@katemcenroe.com.

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