Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Importance of the Detroit Research Park by Akindele Akinyemi

Urban conservatives should lead and strive to build a talented and globally competitive workforce, a vibrant economy and great quality of life and effective, efficient, and accountable government that works for the inner cities of America.

Detroit right now has to redevelop its land base to make it more competitive. The city needs MUST invest in high speed rail. Not just any high speed rail but rail speeds that top 600 miles per hour to make it economically sound for both the city and region. Urban agriculture is also a plus. But we need to also invest in research parks.

Research parks are emerging as strong sources of entrepreneurship, talent, and economic competitiveness for regions, states, and nations. They have become a key element in the
infrastructure supporting the growth of today’s knowledge economy. By providing a location
in which researchers and companies operate in close proximity, research parks create an
environment that fosters collaboration and innovation and promotes the development transfer, and commercialization of technology.

Presently, there are three cities that can fit into Detroit. Those cities are San Francisco, Boston and Manhattan Island. Therefore, we have space to develop a new tax base here in the City of Detroit.

While we have Tech Town (a research park in Midtown Detroit) that is connected to Wayne State University there are still a need for these parks. This is nothing new as we can look into Oakland County or Western Wayne County to see technology parks.

However, we are seeking to rebuild our tax base here in Detroit. Therefore, there are some things we need to take a look at when building additional research parks here in the city. One such park should be built right along the corridor of I-94 south of the GM Poletown Plant in Detroit. It should be called the South Poletown Research Park.

Normally, a Research park is a research facility which is often linked with a major research university. What we need to do here in Detroit is something different. Not only we should link our research parks with a major research university like Wayne State University but linking them to our high schools in Detroit.

We neglect our high schools. While some universities partner with a high school we do not include them in the actual practice of institution building. A research parks that is centered around a high school can be the result of spurring economic growth in Detroit's high-tech sector. partnering with several foundations the South Poletown Research Park will be focused on companies operating in the arenas of life sciences, homeland security, engineering, advanced manufacturing and information technology.

Let us also understand that research parks are now placing greater emphasis on supporting incubation and entrepreneurship to grow their future tenant base and less on recruiting. Present research park directors are indicating that creating an environment that encourages innovation and entrepreneurship is a high priority.

Normally a research park is situated around a population less than 500,000 people. Detroit is at 871,000 people and is shrinking. Also, I am not stopping here just in Detroit but other urban areas across the state of Michigan. Places like Flint, Saginaw, Pontiac, Benton Harbor need research parks.

The need for quality high schools are needed today in Detroit. A high school should not have over 500 students and must be driven by a high-quality curriculum. Thus, a new model—strategically planned mixed-use campus expansions—must emerge here in Detroit that includes space for academic and industrial uses. These mixed-use campus developments are designed to create an innovative environment with a free and frequent exchange of information between academic researchers and their industry counterparts. Our high schools must be a part of this innovation.

The development of a high school-university research park would use various mechanisms to foster high school-university-industry relationships. The most effective include having partnership-developer staff or others charged with relationship building between industry and departments that would lead facilities open to industry and human resource matching programs such as internships and co-ops, and access to university research labs and university technology transfer and commercialization offices.

Amenities will be an important offering of future research parks. On-site amenities, such as restaurants and retail stores, are considered important in attracting innovation employees.

Detroit also need to look towards building more research parks to leverage the assets of non-university R&D organizations such as federal laboratories. In addition to high schools and universities, major medical research centers and public and private research organizations can be key drivers of technology-based economic development. It is becoming increasingly common for communities in which a federal laboratory is located to create a research park to leverage laboratory resources to realize economic development.

Sustainable development involves balancing development needs against protection of the natural environment. In the future, it is likely that research parks will be developed to minimize impact on the environment and to use renewable energy sources and “green” building practices.

In Detroit, international partnerships will become more important in high school-university research parks. Detroit sits on an international waterway. Most of us forget that Windsor, Ontario, Canada is part of the region we live in. It will be important for our high school students and university students here in Detroit to connect with our counterparts in Canada to conduct research partnerships for growth and development.

We cry about the brain drain that is leaving Detroit. With the development of a research park, this may be the very tool to retain, attract, and grow talent, from establishing advanced training facilities to partnering with community colleges to ensure a supply of skilled technicians.

It is likely that technology tenants want more opportunities to network among each other and with sources of knowledge in labs, research organizations, and elsewhere. Parks will, in partnership with trade and other associations, need to increase their focus on tenants’ networking needs and requirements.

Research parks may have a role to play in offering safe, secure environments for technology development. The post-9/11 world suggests the need for controlled access to key strategic technology assets, whether in education or industry. Parks may be well positioned to test, demonstrate, and pilot approaches to address secure and safe environments for replication in the world economy.

What I am looking at Detroit in the next 5-10 years is building a Midwest Silicon Valley or Research Triangle Park. Planned mixed-use campus expansions that provide shared space in which industry and academic researchers can work side by side. These developments embody a commitment by universities to partake in broader activities, offering companies high-value sites for accessing researchers, specialized facilities, and students and promoting live-work-play environments. This is what we need to discuss when Black-owned businesses have conferences. The main problem here is we are meeting and discussing the need for Black-owned businesses but we never leave out with an assignment.

Also, our thinking is too small in Detroit. These research parks must be discussed at the various Black business conferences we have here in the city. We must begin to have policy, economic and educational discussions on developing these research parks at our conferences. Instead of fighting over Cobo Hall and other things Detroit cannot afford to maintain anymore we need to look at revamping our tax base with creativity and innovation.

There must be a strong focus on entrepreneurship and start-up and emerging companies. Research parks can be used as a tool to spur homegrown business retention, expansion, and creation.

For those who are running for political office should take a look at this concept of using research parks as a means of building a stronger and better tax base for the City of Detroit. If we use the research parks along with urban farming, the Port Authority and the aerotropolis we will help reconstruct our region like never before.

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