Guest column: University research alliance boosts economy, jobs in Michigan

By Jeff Mason/University Research Corridor

As Michigan’s economy continues its resurgence, the three major state universities that make up Michigan’s University Research Corridor are doing their part to educate and develop the workers who can give businesses a clear advantage in today’s competitive global economy.

The URC – consisting of Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University – awarded 31,683 degrees in 2011, more than six other major university research clusters in five states, including well-known hubs such as North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, California’s Innovation Hubs  and Massachusetts’ Route 128 Corridor.

The URC also granted the second-highest number of high-demand degrees overall among the university innovation clusters the URC has benchmarked itself against since 2007. More than half of the students graduating in 2011 received degrees in high-tech, high-demand and medical fields.

An economic report prepared by Anderson Economic Group in East Lansing found that Michigan’s URC is making a real difference in creating talent for Michigan companies, and that it stacks up well against its peers. As the URC’s executive director, I believe URC graduates are key to strengthening and expanding Michigan’s economy.

Equally powerful are the inventions and technologies developed by URC faculty in a diverse range of fields. Businesses that want the brightest minds in engineering, biomedicine and alternative energy now know they need to be in Michigan, where annual R&D spending by the three URC universities has grown to $2 billion, a jump of 43 percent in five years.

The URC’s R&D growth rate now tops six other major university innovation clusters in Northern California, Southern California, Illinois, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. That $2 billion in R&D helps bring talented and creative people to the state, making Michigan a place where people want to live, work and launch new enterprises.

Since 2002, the three URC universities have cultivated 149 start-up companies, including 18 in 2011, when the URC ranked behind only Southern California and Massachusetts.

Furthermore, the URC is working to expand the economic benefits it brings to the state.

The $15.5 billion in state economic activity the URC contributed in fiscal year 2011 was up $2.6 billion -- 20 percent -- over the 2007 report.

Michigan’s economic success is vital to students’ ability to get good jobs when they graduate. That’s why the URC universities are working hard to help businesses succeed by providing the research and talent they need. That R&D not only is creating new knowledge, but helping businesses grow and create more jobs.

The URC itself was responsible in 2011 for more than 74,000 direct and indirect jobs statewide, with every region of Michigan benefiting. The impact ranged from $64 million in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to $5.6 billion in Southeast Michigan. The URC’s reach is felt far beyond the cities where its campuses are located.

I’m confident that the annual report commissioned from Anderson Economic Group shows the URC is playing a strong role in reinvigorating Michigan’s economy. The report clearly measures how the URC universities stack up against peer university innovation clusters nationwide, and while there’s still work to be done, the overall grade is a good one.

Michigan’s URC is working to make Michigan a national leader in innovation and developing talent while giving the state and taxpayers a strong return on their investment.

Michigan State, the University of Michigan and Wayne State are critical Michigan assets that turn every dollar invested by the state into $17 of economic activity.

It’s a winning record for the state’s economy, the URC universities and the students who will play a part in Michigan’s brighter future.

Bridge welcomes guest columns from a diverse range of people on issues relating to Michigan and its future. The views and assertions of these writers do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

If you are interested in submitting a guest commentary, please contact Monica WilliamsClick here for details and submission guidelines.

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Thu, 03/21/2013 - 10:52pm
It appears there are particular types of degrees that are the major source of the innovation. I wonder if those are the predominate degrees being provided by the the three universities. I wonder if those universities are investing a higher percentage of their State funds in those more desirable degree programs or might they be investing that money in the high volume low innovation degrees. It would seem that the high innovation is where the universities would be focusing their resources, I wnoder if Mr. Mason found this to be true and why he didn't include it in the article. For that would seemed to be important as we hear about all the graduates that are getting jobs that pay enough to pay of student loans.
Thu, 03/28/2013 - 6:49pm
I'm graduating from Wayne State this year with a graduate degree and I would certainly not recommend my program in the Education Department to others making a substantial investment. Graduate level classes are taught by PhD students because full professors are busy publishing and consulting. Like medical education, the first one at your side at the moment of life and death is a sleepy resident. The quality of most of American higher education at public institutions is overrated. It is both a crisis of cost and quality.