The state Bond Commission is expected to approve $18 million Friday to begin construction on a $172 million project to build a technology park on the University of Connecticut’s Storrs campus, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Thursday.
At a ceremonial signing of the bill that authorized the project, Malloy said the park will serve as the third point of a Connecticut research triangle that will also include Yale University and the UConn Medical Center in Farmington.
Malloy said the research triangle will establish a network to reverse a 22 year job loss trend in the state. It will create construction jobs in the immediate future and high-paying research jobs in the long-term, he said.
He said the tech park will also benefit the economy because it will encourage research that will lead to money-making patents.
“We are laying, literally, the foundation for additional monetization and the bringing to market of great ideas for products that will be the outgrowth of research occurring on this campus,” he said.
Sen. President Donald Williams, who was credited for fast-tracking the bill through the legislature, said it will help to highlight the good research work that’s already being done at UConn.
“It’s time to not only shine a light on northeastern Connecticut and Storrs and our flagship campus, it’s time to turn all the lights on so that this part of that corridor burns brightly. So that here we create the jobs for all of Connecticut and especially for eastern Connecticut,” he said.
UConn President Susan Herbst said she believes the project will have the same transformative effect on the university as the UConn 2000 initiative has had. That program is a 20-year, $2.3 billion bonding investment in the university, passed by the legislature in 1995.
“The initiative is very well timed. Over the last 15 years, the university has built the strong foundation for increasing industry-university interactions, trying to develop more core technological competencies that we need to support the state’s economy,” she said.
She highlighted some of the school’s accomplishments in the past 12 years. It produced 226 patents, 97 active technology licenses, and more than 35 startup companies, she said. With the creation of the tech park there will be more start up companies to come, she said.
Department of Labor Commissioner Glenn Marshall said the project will be especially important to the ailing construction industry.
“They referred to this downturn as the Great Recession but for the construction industry with unemployment rates hovering above 25 percent for a prolonged period of time, it’s been a depression,” he said.
The construction the first building in the tech park project will provide work for more than 750 steel workers, carpenters and painters for at least 18 months, he said. It will also put to work 114 architects, engineers and other professional staff, he said.
The $18 million that is expected to be approved on Friday will be used for the design and construction of that first building, called the Innovation Partnership Building, Williams said. It will also be used for environmental assessments and permits.
In a phone interview Thursday, Senate Minority Leader John McKinney said that, although he voted against the bond package the project was included in, the tech park seems like a good project that will create jobs.
However he had issues with how it was passed through the legislature without a public hearing and with little information, he said. He also said that in giving the university the money, the governor missed an opportunity to get the institution to prioritize its spending.
UConn still has hundreds of millions left over from UConn 2000 and UConn 21st Century, another bonding program, but they refused to contribute even a single dollar of the funds towards the tech park, he said.
McKinney said he met with the university’s leadership to try and convince them to delay or cancel some of its other projects to help fund the tech park, but they insisted on moving forward with all of them. Malloy could have tried to force their hand, he said.
“That the governor was unwilling to challenge the university to re-prioritize its spending is what really frustrates me,” he said.