Grant boosts regional economic
Second initiative aims at Springfield-Hartford
J. Callahan, News Office staff and Daniel
J. Fitzgibbons, Chronicle staff
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.
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.
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
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."
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.
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
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
got to maximize the resources you've got," said Byron. "This
could be a bellwether for much larger thinking."