Lawmakers, academic and business officials announced Friday plans to build a multi-million dollar technology park, similar to the Research Triangle in North Carolina, on the University of Connecticut campus in Storrs.
The proposal sets aside $18 million for funding the project’s design and development, as well as infrastructure updates required to create the tech park. The facilities of the park will include a building with laboratories and incubator space.
But the proposal also invests in what Sen. President Donald Williams, Jr. called “intellectual capital.” It includes $2.5 million to create an Innovations Partners Eminent Faulty Program, designed to attract academics and scientists and leverage funds from federal and private investors, he said.
Williams said the spending, which will come from bonds likely to be approved next week, was appropriate now because the project will create jobs. He cited recent layoffs at the Pfizer Corporation in New London.
Those jobs moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, but not because taxes and operating costs are lower there, Williams said. He said those costs are actually higher.
“Those jobs went to Boston and Cambridge because of the research and development synergy that exists there. That synergy for research and development will soon exist right here in Storrs, Connecticut,” he said.
Technology parks are typically located near research universities and are designed to foster cooperation between the institutions and private technology companies. That can involve enabling them access to advanced technology as well as knowledgeable faculty and students.
Other states that have undertaken similar projects like North Carolina, Illinois, and Indiana, have attracted hundreds of companies and thousands of jobs, according to a statement by Williams’ office.
Standing in UConn’s Gampel Pavilion, Williams said, “We can compete with North Carolina in basketball, in this venue right here. With the advancement of this critical project we will compete with North Carolina and every other state in the country when it comes to creating high quality jobs.”
Williams said the idea isn’t entirely new. In the 90s, then-Gov. William O’Neill put forth a similar proposal but problems with the siting and zoning processes kept it from ever getting off the ground. Those problems have largely been resolved, Williams said Friday.
Click here to read a Hartford Courant article from 1994 detailing some of the siting struggles the school had with the technology park.
The park would position Connecticut as part of an “essential corridor for cutting edge research and development” in the country, he said. Storrs would become part of an already-existing concentration of research and development locations in the Northeast, he said.
“We in Connecticut will be unstoppable as a result,” he said.
The University’s acting president, Philip Austin said the school was an obvious choice for the placement of the park and enables it to contribute to the state in a way that has a direct impact on its economic health.
“Connecticut is a state whose economic progress, indeed whose economic survival depends on knowledge and innovation and very advanced technology,” he said.
When the state excels in those areas it ranks near the top of the country in terms of economic well-being, he said. But when it fails it finds itself with problems the “virtually defy solution,” he said.
The announcement came at UConn’s School of Engineering Senior Design Demonstration Day, where seniors in the Engineering Department displayed their work on real-life engineering problems from corporate sponsors. Many of the speakers mentioned said venue was a fitting setting to announce the project.
Sen. Beth Bye, D-West Hartford, said technology park proposal builds on the strength of Connecticut’s youths. She also said the project is an answer to a question on the minds of many in the state.
“This is taxpayer dollars spent really well in creating jobs. Everyone says, ‘Where are the jobs?’ This is project that’s directed right at that,” she said.
The program’s speakers also included business officials. Howard Orr, president of KTI a small technology company, offered an example of how cooperation with the school has helped his company. Orr said his company started working with UConn around a year ago after they won a small business innovation grant from Connecticut Innovations.
The grant allowed KTI to recruit an engineering student, through a scholar program, who them to automate an electron beam welding machine. The work of that student will revolutionize the company’s service capabilities, improve product reliability and reduces the manufacturing costs for some customers, Orr said. Since then the company recruited other students, who are helping to tackle other issues.
Orr said the project is good news for his company and the students they engage.
“This center will contribute to our bottom line and will provide a unique learning core where students can gain practical skills and it will help Connecticut create jobs and strengthen its critical manufacturing sector for all the challenges that lie ahead,” he said.
Williams said he is hoping the project will break ground within the next two years.