The Campus Chronicle
Vol. XVI, Issue 6
for the Amherst campus of the University of Massachusetts
Oct. 6, 2000

Page OneGrain & ChaffObituariesLetters to the ChronicleArchivesFeedbackWeekly Bulletin




Grant boosts regional economic
development plans

Second initiative aims at Springfield-Hartford corridor

by Patrick J. Callahan, News Office staff and Daniel J. Fitzgibbons, Chronicle staff

T he University and its partners in the newly formed Regional Technology Alliance (RTA) have been awarded a two-year, $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Partnerships For Innovation program to boost the region's technology strengths and to attract new companies to the area.

     The NSF announced 24 grants of more than $14 million in 20 states and Puerto Rico in its current round of funding, with the grant to UMass/RTA the only one awarded in New England. The funds are designed to help translate knowledge gained from basic research into new products, businesses, and services, and to provide workforce education and training opportunities focused on innovation.

     Fred Byron, interim vice chancellor for Research, says the grant announcement is excellent news and will boost the work of the alliance. "This is an exciting opportunity. I believe that if our region is to grow in the future, the University will have to work with businesses and other entities," Byron says. "And based on our experience, the benefits flow both ways. The University can help the region's growth, and our faculty and students will benefit from that process. We have demonstrated again our ability to leverage outside sources when we collaborate as a region."

     The RTA was established to provide support and the exchange of information between technology companies in the region, especially in the fields of computers, polymers and environmental technologies. The alliance recently hired the non-profit consulting group Battelle Memorial Institute to study the key technologies that are used in the region's companies. The findings will be used to forge an economic development plan that plays to this region's strengths and areas where new development is expected to occur. The RTA's success will depend on the co-operation of industry and higher education, Byron says.

     According to Byron, some of the NSF funding will support the hiring of two staff to work on the initiative. After the various technology clusters in the area are identified, he said, the alliance will need someone to coordinate meetings and encourage interactions between various firms. Another staffer will work directly with Mass Ventures Corp.

     Besides UMass, the partners in the RTA include Mass Ventures Corp., Springfield Technical Community College, the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts, Western Massachusetts Electric Company, Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, Koll-morgen Aerospace and Defense Group, Rexam Image Products, Western Massachusetts Software Association, Pioneer Equity Fund, and the National Collegiate Innovators and Inventors Association.

     Ralph Carlson, vice president of the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts, says, "Quality companies offering high-quality jobs will be attracted to our region in greater numbers if we can identify significant clusters of unique technologies here in the Pioneer Valley. This has happened in other parts of the country. Given our region's great education resources, uniquely superior fiber optic infrastructure, short commutes, and great quality of life, it is the perfect place for high-tech growth companies to expand."

     Jerry Schaufeld, president and CEO of Mass Ventures, says the NSF award will assist the alliance in creating the development infrastructure needed to attract new companies to the area.

     "This grant also looks at the whole issue of technology transfer and commercialization stemming from research," Schaufeld says. "The opportunity here is very large."
Byron said the RTA also fits in with another economic development initiative aimed at promoting the Greater Hartford-Pioneer Valley area as a single market known as "New England's Knowledge Corridor."

     Backed by Gov. Paul Cellucci and Connecticut Gov. John Rowland, the regional initiative is intended to position the cross-border area to attract business and industry.

      "We really need to do something," said Byron, citing competition from the South and West. "We need to think more systematically to grow our economy here."

     A western New England economic alliance could serve as model for the entire six-state region, said Byron.

     As an initial step in building cooperation in the greater Springfield-Hartford area, UMass and UConn economic analysts are launching a study of the newly defined region, which by early counts includes 1.55 million people, a labor force of 782,000, 26 colleges and universities and 40,000 businesses.

     "You've got to maximize the resources you've got," said Byron. "This could be a bellwether for much larger thinking."

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