Guest blog post by Paul J. Corson, Deputy Director of the U.S. Commerce Department Economic Development Administration’s Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Recently, as part of our ongoing series of public conference calls with members of the National Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship (NACIE), we spoke with Dr. Christina Gabriel, president of the University Energy Partnership, a nonprofit organization that was founded jointly in 2010 by five major research universities in the Pittsburgh area, and Dr. Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan. Dr. Gabriel and Dr. Coleman, who both play leading roles in regional-based economic development in promoting the commercialization of research, stressed similar themes, including the importance of culture, partnerships, and perspective in regional economic development.
During her call on May 22, Dr. Gabriel emphasized the importance of leveraging local strengths. She noted that while foundations historically have embodied a regional perspective when it comes to economic development, many universities have only recently begun to do so. Universities possess very rich and diverse strengths that are best leveraged by applying them to difficult problems in collaborative efforts. For example, the University Energy Partnership was set up to leverage broad research efforts and applied technology developments in the energy space that has been developed over many years—not just in the Pittsburgh region, but throughout the four neighboring states.
In order to achieve success in regional cooperatives, Dr. Gabriel recommended that institutions focus on what their region is good at, and to build around that. She cautioned against blindly following the latest fad and hiring consultants to try and steal companies from other regions. By focusing on regional strengths, she said, even regions that have fewer resources—including those that have lost human and industry resources—can slow, and even reverse, these declines.