Deep Economic Development: Partnerships That Are Reshaping Universities and Their Communities

March 15, 2017

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By Jonathan Turk

In an ACE2017 panel moderated by ACE’s Louis Soares, presidents Jim Clements (Clemson University (SC)) and Gail Mellow (LaGuardia Community College (NY)), and Vice President for Economic Development James Woodell (Association of Public and Land-grant Universities) shared insights into the role higher education plays in economic development as well as information on partnerships their institutions have undertaken in recent years.

James Woodell kicked off the session by helping the audience come to a shared understanding of what economic development means. Woodell emphasized the important role colleges and universities play in talent and human capital development, research and problem solving, and community improvement. These three overarching missions ensure the conditions necessary for economic prosperity and produce strong and vibrant communities.

Clements likes to say that Clemson is a “real university solving real problems.” This drive to solve emerging issues led to the creation of a series of innovation campuses throughout South Carolina. With each innovation campus focusing on a unique issue, Clements highlighted the work of one in particular, CU-ICAR, dedicated to advancing innovative automotive research and development. Since its creation in 2003, CU-ICAR has become a global leader in automotive research and education, bringing together leading manufacturers, academic researchers, and even establishing one of the first Ph.D. programs in automotive research.

Mellow emphasized the importance of actively seeking out opportunities to partner with those in the local community. As a true community college, LaGuardia’s efforts to reach out to local employers and government leaders to better understand their needs has led to a number of innovative partnerships.

Responding specifically to needs of local medical providers, LaGuardia, in partnership with Weill Cornell Medicine and others, established the LaGuardia Medical Billing Certificate program. This tuition-free education-to-employment program is designed to help those unemployed or underemployed find stable work with opportunities for advancement. Mellow also highlighted her institution’s collaborative effort with Goldman Sachs to provide practical business and management education to small business owners in the greater New York metropolitan area.

Colleges and universities play an important role in the economic development of their local, state and regional communities. Beyond the traditional conversations about research and development, institutions are establishing new and vibrant partnerships with industry leaders, entrepreneurs and their local and state governments. These partnerships are vital and will continue in order to improve the economic conditions of the people and communities they serve.

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