Universities are Economic Engines

Universities are Economic Engines

By Mitchell E Daniels, Jr., Purdue University President

For anyone searching for “best places to live” in Indiana or in America, it should come as no surprise that towns and cities with a college or university are nearly always among the top choices.

Higher ed institutions and leading research universities are very often an area’s leading employer, and more importantly, are the key drivers of innovation and economic development.

A recent Brookings Institution report, which focused on major metropolitan areas, noted that “research universities are the crown jewels of the American innovation economy” and found that when these universities are located in large cities, they improve economic growth through innovation by producing patents, forging corporate partnerships, and building startups. Another recent study, this one on land-grant universities, found that those institutions have an indirect effect on economic and social values in both cities and in rural areas, due again to innovation as well as educational growth.

We know the case to be true here in Indiana – Purdue and Indiana universities are among Indiana’s largest employers and, along with several of our fellow higher education institutions, have major impact on local economies and that of the state.

Just a year ago, in fact, Indiana’s Tippecanoe County, home of Purdue, recorded the highest wage growth in the nation according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to the report, the average weekly wage was up 15.1 percent during the fourth quarter of 2018 compared with fourth quarter of 2017. Tippecanoe County’s population also continues to grow rapidly — nearly 2 percent in 2016, 0.61 percent in 2017, and 0.72 percent in 2018, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

This past fall (2018), Purdue was ranked the sixth most innovative institution in the country (and tops in the Big Ten) by U.S. News & World Report. In addition, the Wall Street Journal reported that Purdue is the No. 6 institution globally for startup companies generated from university-licensed technologies; among U.S. institutions, only MIT and Stanford produced more.

Perhaps most relevant to the topic of economic impact, Purdue also recently received the 2019 Innovation & Economic Prosperity Place award from the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities. The award recognizes innovative projects and programs in economic engagement, and specifically acknowledges the impact Purdue is having on growth in its community and the state of Indiana. Among the main initiatives:

  • The $120 million State Street Redevelopment Project in partnership with the city of West Lafayette;
  • The more than $1 billion of anticipated development in the Discovery Park District, a growing “Live, Work, Play and Learn” area that has already attracted Rolls-Royce, Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories and Saab, which together are actively creating spaces for more than 600 new high-tech jobs;
  • The Aspire living community and soon, the Provenance residential village;
  • The Convergence Center for Innovation and Collaboration; and
  • The many high-tech startup companies opening in Purdue Research Park locations around Indiana.

Purdue has invested in two Purdue Polytechnic High School locations in Indianapolis with a goal to fully prepare high school students who otherwise might not have the opportunity for high-tech and STEM-related careers, and the plan is to expand these high schools further into the state.

These new initiatives follow on Purdue’s Center for Regional Development, launched in 2005 to deepen the university’s economic engagement across the state and region. The center leads a variety of initiatives to address the unique needs of each community it works in and to spur development across the state. Partnering with Ball State University, the center’s Hometown Collaboration Initiative works to grow local capacity in leadership and economic placemaking.

If there is a more exciting place to be than Purdue right now, I don’t know where it is. I venture to say, if Purdue didn’t exist, the state of Indiana would be working to create one.

Category Features, Last Word