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URC Touts IT, Launches Student Retention Effort

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The University Research Corridor released a new report Thursday that shows how the information and communication technology industry is a worthy educational investment, offers higher-paying jobs and has potential for more business growth in Michigan.

The independent analysis, conducted by Anderson Economic Group, is the URC’s fourth annual report that quantifies and assesses industry sectors where the universities’ research and development play a major role.

The URC, a consortium of Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University, also announced that it had received a grant to launch a new student retention program for foreign-born students.

Listen: WWJ’s Rob Davidek  talks with the university presidents

The announcements came Thursday at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference.

As for the IT and communication survey, Anderson Economic Group CEO Patrick Anderson noted that “all of Michigan’s key industries rely heavily on information and communication technologies. Firms that create new ICT technologies, which are the lifeblood of the new economy, require trained employees, many of which rely upon an education from a URC university. Additionally, the URC universities are developing new technologies that are making all industries more productive and efficient, and are allowing entrepreneurs to start new businesses.”

Some highlights from the report:

* The URC universities spent nearly $74 million on research projects with a strong IT focus in their 2009-10 fiscal years.
* Of the nearly 150 start-ups the URC has assisted in creating since 2001, about 40 percent have had a distinct ICT component.
* Information technology employs about 3.5 percent of the state’s work force, or about 135,000 workers, and is significant not only as its own sector but as the underpinning for much of the major industry activity and growth represented in previous sector reports.
* The industry pays high wages, with employees earning about $20,000 more than other workers in the private sector.

Many URC-related startups have a strong ICT component. They include: AquaBioChip (Michigan State), which has developed technology to test for the presence of germs in air, food and water; SenSound (Wayne State), which offers diagnostic software that creates three-dimensional digital images of sound as it travels through space and time, allowing users to identify the source of noise or vibration; and Arbor Networks (UM), a provider of  network security and monitoring solutions for global networks, whose customers include more than 70 percent of the world’s Internet service providers.

The report shows that no sector is immune from the effects of Michigan’s recession. Employment in the ICT sector declined 4 percent from 2000 to 2009, while overall employment declined 15 percent during that time period.

Michigan’s share of ICT employment (3.5 percent) is slightly less than that of the Midwest (3.7 percent) and United States (4.2 percent).

“From mobile applications to smart phones and medical imaging devices, this sector represents a key part of doing business in Michigan,” said Jeff Mason, executive director of the URC. “Along with our previous reports that focused on alternative energies, life sciences, and advanced manufacturing, we are gaining insight to pathways that are key to the recovery of Michigan’s economy.”

Summaries of those reports:

Advanced Manufacturing (2010)
* Michigan’s advanced manufacturing industry employs 381,351 workers, accounting for 10.3 percent of all employment (2007 data). Fully one-third of advanced manufacturing jobs in the Midwest are in Michigan.
* The average wages in the advanced manufacturing industry was $64,122.
* URC universities spent $101 million on advanced manufacturing R&D in 2009.
* URC universities are educating more than 14,000 students in engineering.

Life Sciences (2009)
* Michigan’s life sciences industry employed more than 79,000 workers, accounting for 2.1 percent of all employment (2006 data).
* Between 1999 and 2006,life sciences industry employment grew by 10.7 percent while during that same time period manufacturing employment dropped by 24 percent.
* Life sciences wages averaged $83,494 in 2006.
* In 2008, URC universities spent $887 million on life sciences research and development.
* R&D expenditures grew 69 percent since the founding of the Life Sciences Corridor in 1999.

Alternative Energy Research and Development (2008)
* Michigan has a comparative advantage in biomass and wind compared to the energy potential in the other 49 states.
* URC universities spent more than $79.5 million on R&D related to  alternative energy in 2007.
* Federal funding provided 71 percent ($56.8 million) of total R&D funding in alternative energy.
* More than 50 percent of all alternative energy R&D supported the auto industry.

Meanwhile, the URC schools also announced that the New Economy Initiative of Southeast Michigan has awarded the University Research Corridor a three-year, $450,000 grant to launch the Global Detroit International Student Retention Program to retain international talent in the region.

The program is based on recommendations outlined in a May 2010 Global Detroit study funded by the New Economy Initiative. The objectives of the Global Detroit International Student Retention Program include:

* Marketing the region to international students from the moment of first contact to graduation
* Recruiting employers to hire international students
* Navigating immigration legal barriers
* Developing an ongoing presence and relationships with participating universities, international students, and related international organizations

According to URC Executive Director Jeff Mason, the Global Detroit International Student Retention Program directly supports the URC’s mission to transform, strengthen and diversify the state’s economy. It also cooperatively links the URC with other college and university partners in Michigan to achieve this shared goal.

“Michigan’s reinvention requires us to retain the best talent we can, regardless of whether those students hail from Michigan or come here to study in our great universities,” Mason said. “By attracting and retaining the best and brightest, we can accelerate the pace of change to a high-tech, highly skilled knowledge-based economy.”

Key findings of the Global Detroit report reveal that:

* Michigan has more than 23,500 international students — the eighth largest population of international students of any state.
* International students contribute nearly $600 million annually to our local economies.
* Immigrants file nearly 50 percent of Michigan’s international patents and are three times as likely to start a business.

According to New Economy Initiative Director David Egner, the Global Detroit International Student Retention Program is an appropriate next step in response to these compelling factors. Egner said he concurs with Global Detroit’s recommendation that international student retention promises to “increase the prosperity of the region, as well as the number of high-tech firms…(and) make the region more innovative.”

“Not only can these students improve the overall education levels of the state’s workforce,” Egner said, “but, because Michigan’s international  students overwhelmingly excel in critical STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), they can contribute to the growth of emerging sectors in Michigan’s new economy.”

The Global Detroit Study noted research by Vivek Wadhwa at Duke University and Anna Lee Saxenian at the University of California-Berkeley, which shows that “foreign born talent already has had a profound impact on Michigan’s tech economy with an estimated 32.8 percent of all the high technology firms created in the state from 1995-2005 having at least one immigrant founder.”

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