U’s Science Park seeks more federal funds, loans

The America COMPETES Act could net the park up to $300 million in loans.

Frank

The fate of the University of Minnesota Science Park âÄî a 32-acre site for research labs and offices âÄî remains in limbo as organizers look to the University to take the lead as they vie for federal funding.
The issue is time-critical, and progress is needed within the next six months for the park to become a reality, said Peter Bianco, a consultant on the project for five years.
The America COMPETES Act, a possible source of funding for the park, would provide $750,000 for planning and up to $300 million in loan guarantees from the federal government.
The act is currently facing the federal Board of Appropriations for approval, but if itâÄôs passed, the University needs to be ready to submit a proposal, Bianco said.
He said competition from other academic institutions will be stiff, but the $750,000 would progress the planning of the park in a hurry.
Bianco has worked with developers, securing land for the 500,000-square-foot series of buildings that will house research labs as well as offices that companies from the private sector can lease.
The goal is to translate early stage technology coming out of the University into viable commercial entities, Bianco said.
A science park is a place where the private sector and the University can work together and create jobs and innovation, said Eileen Walker, CEO of the Association of University Research Parks.
There are close to 190 research parks in North America, and more than 400 in the world, Walker said.
âÄúWe could be doing so much more if we had the infrastructure here,âÄù Bianco said. âÄúWhat weâÄôre talking about is an interconnected community that is physically linked to campus.âÄù
The research community would help the University attract world-class faculty and bring more research grants to the University.
Overall, this would translate into more jobs for graduate students, higher faculty retention and large corporations on campus because of the science park.
âÄúIn a perfect world, this whole thing should be led by the University,âÄù Bianco said. âÄúBudget cuts are one thing, but at one point, the University just needs to kick it in gear.âÄù
Studies have shown that the closer a startup is to its original location of research, the more likely the commercial success, Bianco said.
âÄúThis is not rocket science âÄî there are 45 of these things in the U.S. âÄî we are the last one, period. We shouldnâÄôt even be talking about this,âÄù Bianco said.
Bianco has also received approval from the state government and neighborhood associations, but one question remains: âÄúWhere is the University?âÄù
The University supports a science park and the America COMPETES Act, but financial conditions make it difficult for the University to discuss the construction of new buildings.
âÄúWeâÄôre excited about the project and the opportunities it presents,âÄù said John Merritt, Vice President for Research at the University. âÄúGiven the tough economic climate, we just arenâÄôt able at this point to have any additional financial commitments just given whatâÄôs going on with state funding.âÄù
Bianco said itâÄôs vital for the University to build a research park for it to stay competitive among the worldâÄôs research institutions.
âÄú[A research park] is extraordinarily important, especially when universities have to diversify their income streams,âÄù said Mark Bugher, director of the University of Wisconsin-MadisonâÄôs University Research Park, which has been on campus for 26 years.
âÄúUniversities have to attract the best and brightest faculty, and especially younger faculty expect something like [a research park] for them to spit out ideas and intellectual property.âÄù
The impact to the community itself is worth noting, said Bugher, adding that the indirect impact of their research park is just less than $1 billion.
âÄúItâÄôs the single most important economic development in the city,âÄù Bugher said. âÄúThese companies are not only hiring graduates, but they provide students with high quality jobs that are needed in this economy.âÄù