UT: Cooperation removes barriers for region’s economic successWritten by Rick Stansley | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Last April, University of Toledo President Lloyd Jacobs called on the institution to turn its focus to maintaining its relevance to the needs of students and the community as UT charted its course over the next decade.
While the notion of a walled university separate and apart from its community has long been obsolete, figurative barriers have remained. Until a few years ago, UT’s engagement with the community had been occasional, scattered and uncoordinated.
For the past five years, The University of Toledo has responded with vigor to the demands of community and business leaders and public officials calling for institutions of higher education to become leaders of economic development and community engagement.
In 2006, the merger of UT and the Medical University of Ohio created a more coherent voice for education in the region. Earlier this year, UT and the ProMedica Health System put past disagreements aside and formed an educational and research partnership that will benefit northwest Ohio for decades.
Today, UT is in the midst of an academic restructuring process designed to ensure every student who graduates from UT has the broad range of in- and out-of-the-classroom experiences that will be essential in the global economy students will enter.
And during the course of the last five years, this spirit of community partnership has been best displayed as UT works with government, private organizations and educational institutions to turn a sluggish regional economy around.
It is true that the “Great Recession” has hit Toledo and the region particularly hard. Many skilled workers, particularly in manufacturing, have found themselves without work.
But the recession will end. And thanks to the foundation laid over the last half-decade by the City of Toledo, the Regional Growth Partnership, the Port Authority, the local Chamber of Commerce, the Northwest Ohio Regional Economic Development Association and countless others, Northwest Ohio will be prepared to take advantage of economic growth in a way that has eluded the region in the past.
By working together, businesses that want to expand or are looking for a logistical hub will find more than simple geographical benefits to a Toledo-based operation. Whether long established or a start-up, businesses will find assistance with financing, with zoning, with supply chain expertise.
And most importantly, they will find an employee base with smart-manufacturing skills that translate easily to modern production of goods spanning a wide array of industries.
At UT, a College of Adult and Lifelong Learning has been created with this employee base in mind. Its degree completion programs are designed to maximize college credit for workers’ career experiences and get them back into the field with new training or an advanced degree is quickly as possible.
In fact, many undergraduate and graduate students work with local and regional businesses while in school as part of their education. At the Wright Center for Photovoltaic Innovation and Commercialization, students studying physics also are working with the dozens of partnering firms, which span the solar energy supply chain.
Cooperative education is a required part of the College of Engineering’s curriculum and internships will become even more central to students’ education across all colleges in the years to come.
These men and women, whether traditional college graduates or returning for schooling after spending time in the work force, form the potential for surging regional economic growth that only becomes possible working with partner organizations.
In August, the inaugural class in UT’s new master’s degree in photovoltaics began their studies. These students will graduate with advanced knowledge of the science behind solar technology and also take business courses related to manufacturing management.
Among them may well be a future tenant in UT’s Clean and Alternative Energy Incubator. Like UT solar spin-off company Xunlight, this entrepreneur will see the manufacturing knowledge of the local workforce and, with the help of regional economic development partners, join the growing cluster of solar and alternative energy companies in northwest Ohio.
The coming budget cycle will be challenging for Ohio and states across the country. With resources more scarce, public-private partnerships are the only way to achieve prosperity. Where in the past tight budgets have put a halt to collaborative regional strategies, today they will only serve to reinforce our friendships and cement our need to work together.
We’ll never know where the next economic development opportunity will come from. By working together, we can ensure companies and entrepreneurs encounter few barriers as they take advantage of the region’s logistics, skilled workforce and educational opportunities. The result will be a stronger economy for everyone.
Rick Stansley is chairman of the board of Innovation Enterprises, UT’s economic development arm. He is a business owner and previously served as chairman of UT’s Board of Trustees.