an the role of science and technology parks as engines of economic prosperity be overstated?
Perhaps, but it's hard to do so in the current economy. For every large new project — like Samsung's recently announced, US$3.6-billion chip plant expansion in Austin, Texas, adding 500 jobs — hundreds of new startups take wing every year that when mature will employ many times that. For years, areas and savvy universities have understood the importance of providing the nests from which the fledglings would emerge. But today, an area's failure to provide the latest in research and commercialization tools puts that area at a distinct disadvantage. It might as well tell Samsung to expand a facility in some other location.
Areas that operate successful science parks know well their economic impact. "The
Sounds promising, and very much in line with the push to renewable energy development and production. But science parks' role in economic development is still being defined — is it local or regional or statewide or all of these — as new technologies and their potential to generate jobs come into focus.
"On his 1927 tour to celebrate his solo flight across the Atlantic, Charles Lindbergh wouldn't fly to Vancouver, because the airport was too small," noted Brian Darmody, president of the Association of University Research Parks (AURP) and associate vice president for research and economic development at the University of Maryland, in December 2009 testimony to the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. AURP had recently held its annual conference in
"The Obama administration and Congress and others are all looking at ways to improve innovation, improve the economy and create jobs," Darmody told Site Selection in mid June. "Research parks are a necessary, but maybe not sufficient condition. They are important pieces of the innovation puzzle, because you want a place for smart people to locate and where ideas can incubate and partnerships can grow. They are anchors in localizing innovation. They are where startups can grow and where larger corporations can have operations and perhaps cluster," he adds, pointing to
Parks in Transition
And they are evolving, says Darmody, so potential investors might watch for these emerging trends as they seek to maximize their science and research park experience: "Parks are becoming much more mixed use, with housing for example — live where you research. Much more important than LEED certification, in my view, is having housing near where the researchers research, which reduces the carbon footprint immensely, more so than the building itself." Similarly, look for more parks to be developed in infill areas rather than on
Another development is universities moving certain degree programs to research parks, which multiplies opportunities for innovation and synergy among the park population. The
Finally, says Darmody, "We'll eventually see the research park come to the campus, where you'll have privately financed buildings on traditional campus land, wherein translational research might take place. One example might be an incubator for larger companies, not just startups."
Incubators can be found in city-developed technology centers, as well, especially in cities whose leadership understands the importance of cultivating startups today in the industries that will define the business landscape of tomorrow. Cities with in-town medical schools and hospitals are helping grow medical research parks, as in Shreveport, La. (see the Louisiana spotlight, this issue) and Memphis, Tenn. (see sidebar), among many other locations.
Such facilities are not required for science and technology parks to succeed as urban economic engines. But a vision for (a) linking research initiatives and entrepreneurship in related scientific fields and (b) creating space for those linkages to bear fruit is required.
"The site was a portrait of the Rust Belt," prior to redevelopment, says Steve Nutt, senior vice president, CityWide Development Corp., which manages Dayton's long-term economic development strategy. Today, in addition to
About $20 million of the original $28 million in funding for IDCAST went to state-of-the-art sensing technology and 50,000 sq. ft. (4,650 sq. m.) of lab space for research in lasers, electronics, visualization and human signature sciences, among other areas. Much of the rest of the funding — about three quarters of it — was earmarked as one-to-one matching funds for companies and academics who would submit proposals to IDCAST explaining how their sensor technology would create jobs in
"We have awarded $6.2 million," says IDCAST Director Larrell Walters, "and rather than a one to one match, we've received about a one and a half to one match — it's turned into a $15 million investment for
Ready for Your Closeup?
"These are pretty cool technologies," notes Walters. IDCAST put $1 million into one company (which more than matched that investment) that makes next-generation, 3-D movie cameras. "Regular, DVD-quality movie cameras are 320,000 pixels. This one is 4 million pixels a frame, and it records the angle of inclination of each pixel. So you're capturing real-time 3-D movies. The pixels are so close together, we can read the indents on your fingerprints from six feet away in 3-D." The technology can be used to track micro-muscle facial movements (indicating one of seven emotional expressions shared by all of mankind) for signs of anger or anxiety, for example, which would have very useful applications in national security arenas. Speaking of which, another of IDCAST's specialties is CBRNE sensing, short for chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear and explosives sensing.
Meanwhile, RFID technology is replacing the ubiquitous barcode, which was first implemented in the
Of about 30 companies applying for use of the
"We're starting to do what we've wanted to do, which is to grow our own companies," says Nutt. "It's hard to attract people to
Clusters by Design
Adds Bradley Proctor, executive director and CEO of the Dayton RFID Convergence Center, "We see Tech Town attracting not only companies directly to the 15-building campus environment, but we also see companies locating outside of the physical boundaries of the campus with the intent of capitalizing on the rich environment of sensors, aviation and R&D facilities that will be on the campus. Their purpose is to be close to where the innovation occurs so that companies can get access to technologies and a trained work force to help develop their technologies — the 'beltway bandits' theory of economic development.
"The automotive industry developed a cluster of technology in
"A lot of people underestimate what