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April 28, 2016

Universities’ economic impact is much broader today, Bagley says

Historically, universities have viewed their economic impact as a provider of jobs, a producer of skilled workers and a source of technology transfer and commercialization.

Today’s view is much broader, said Rebecca Bagley, vice chancellor for economic partnerships, in a presentation to the University Senate community relations committee (CRC) last week.

The University already has faculty-driven partnerships with industry, tech transfer and commercialization activities and investments in entrepreneurial activities, she said. “We educate students. … Brain gain is a huge economic driver.” Faculty are leading in service work in the community and the University has anchor buildings in growing neighborhoods including Homewood and in Bakery Square.

More can be done. Among the aspirations under Pitt’s strategic plan, the University aims to boost life sciences translation and skills, an area Bagley said is ripe for growth.

“It’s amazing that we are fifth in NIH (funding) and we have all this amazing technology. And we have almost zero life science industry opportunities, jobs. It’s really a stark difference,” she said.

“We have not been good at communicating nationally, in particular, around this piece of our story,” she said.

Bagley said she feels Pitt’s life science capabilities have matured in the past two decades to the degree that the University “is in a really good place” to engage in translation and partnership. “I feel like we’re going to be a major driver over the next five years, to help accelerate that,” she said.

Building “clusters” of employers in a sector fosters growth because companies want to recruit talent, and because workers want opportunities for mobility among employers.

What amenities are lacking in Oakland and what perceptions discourage companies locating here? asked Eli Shorak, vice chancellor for business and real estate.

Traffic, lack of parking and the perception that it’s hard to get to Oakland are factors, posited CRC co-chair Linda Hartman.

Co-chair Pam Toto added that an Oakland address may not have the same prestige of a Downtown location for some businesses, although medical businesses may value a presence in the heart of the city’s medical and education district.

Lack of space is a hindrance, said Tracy Soska of the School of Social Work. “Part of the challenge for the tech community is that you can have a startup here, but where do you put a larger operation? We just don’t have that sort of space here,” he said, adding that in order to grow, companies need to look beyond Oakland.

Oakland has not positioned itself as a destination, said Georgia Petropoulos, director of the Oakland Business Improvement District (OBID). “We have a huge arts and culture scene, but nobody talks about it. If we all bought into a concerted message, maybe that’s a place to start.”

Soska said Schenley Plaza is a destination that draws people from outside the neighborhood, but he agreed, “Arts and culture is one thing we have here that we don’t celebrate enough. We could do a better job.”

Wanda Wilson, executive director of the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation (OPDC), noted that Oakland has great architecture, but people need to be incentivized to live and work here. Bringing that demographic into the neighborhood will lead to interesting businesses and new employers locating here as well, she said.

New developments are diversifying the housing available in the neighborhood, she noted. “It will be interesting to see what happens as the housing stock changes.”

Petropoulos noted the power of Pitt and other institutions to serve as catalysts when they choose a location for their own facilities. For instance, the presence of Pitt’s Human Engineering Research Laboratories as well as UPMC and Carnegie Mellon facilities spawned housing and other development at Bakery Square.
“When you think about where you’re going to locate, think about how it can be a catalyst,” she said. “Oakland can use that kind of catalytic movement.”


Bagley outlined an August 2015 economic engagement report by the Association of Public & Land-Grant Universities (, which calls on institutions to: know what they’re doing well and what they need to improve with regard to economic engagement; measure their engagement; tell the story of their contributions to economic development; and engage in external partnerships in order to have meaningful impact.

The APLU report identifies strategic program principles of practice:

• To embed economic engagement, innovation and entrepreneurship across institutional missions.

• To value and promote scholarship across a continuum of discovery and application.

“They keep coming back to the consistency of mission,” Bagley said. Everyone has the same sense of the University’s mission, but when it comes to thinking about executing that mission, people view it through their own individual lens.

“We all feel the mission a little bit differently, which is not a bad thing,” she said. “But how do you then make it so everybody sees themselves in the strategy?”

• To be a good community partner, at times as a convener and as an active participant.

• To engage in regional innovation ecosystems “to make sure your technology and ideas are going into the market and are supported so they have the best chance of success,” Bagley said, citing as local examples such partnerships as Innovation Works and the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse.

• To identify and strengthen strategic competitiveness, which Bagley said is done largely at the strategic plan level.

• To serve regional human capital and workforce needs.

“I think we have an opportunity at the University to think both about not just the students that we’re engaging but the others we touch through our service and different projects,” she said, citing the community engagement and service learning promoted by School of Social Work faculty member Soska.

• To contribute to the health and well-being of the community and the people the institution serves — an area in which Pitt and UPMC together have an “incredible opportunity to contribute,” Bagley said.

• To facilitate 21st-century knowledge creation at the intersections, collisions and new fusions of academic disciplines.

“This is breaking down the silos of the institution, much like we did in the Year of the Humanities. … getting programs going across the institution,” Bagley said. “ Economic development can’t really happen without that,” she said, noting that bigger-impact partnerships tend to cross disciplines.

• To affirm that humanities, social sciences and STEM disciplines are all vital.

“Really it is a more holistic approach that can have the bigger impact that we are looking for,” she said, noting that, in economic development circles, there’s now more talk about “innovation,” which is broader than “technology.”

In addition, the report outlines business and policy principles of practice to achieve the strategic program principles. Institutional culture is a huge part of that,” Bagley said. “It’s how we think about the work in educating people, how this can actually be of value to a lot of different facets of the University, and how it’s embedded.”

The APLU model doesn’t suit the University perfectly, she said, but does provide a framework for thinking more broadly.

The APLU outlines eight business and policy principles:

• Assess outcomes from collaborative work and measure a spectrum of economic, social and cultural impacts from research and innovation activity.
“This gives a nod to the fact that it’s not just a technology exercise or a commercialization exercise,” Bagley said. “It’s really: How are we impacting the community around us in different ways?’”

• Align economic development goals with institutional incentives.

• Make access to the institution’s assets and collaboration with experts easier.

“This is faculty consulting; it’s also access to equipment that we have within the institution. … either for a fee or in conjunction with faculty.” It also encompasses making use of underutilized assets, either toward the University’s mission, or to avoid idling, she said.

• Align business processes with goals for collaboration and innovation.

This includes University conflict of interest policies, legal structures and access to facilities, as well as enabling work across units, so collaboration can occur, she said.

Bagley, who came to Pitt a year ago from outside of academia, said she found it odd that money is moved around internally in the University. “There’s little and big things that are policies and practices that we have … it’s amazing how the smallest hindrance can really affect collaboration or innovation,” she said.

• Preserve academe’s core values of academic and intellectual integrity.

“Nothing that we’re doing is supposed to take us away from the core of that integrity,” she said.

• Exercise responsible stewardship of resources.

• Facilitate creation on and around campus of next-generation research parks and innovation districts, knowledge-centric mixed-use communities.

Compared to other regions, we have few major businesses around us, Bagley said. “We don’t have a lot of spaces where our faculty can work with industry in co-located areas. We almost have none, especially in the wet lab and biomedical space,” she said. “That’s a huge gap for us in looking at an economic development strategy.”

• Deploy the institution’s procurement and investment business practices to maximize economic impact.

Historically, procurement has been kept separate from other areas of the University, Bagley said. Care must be taken and conflict and risks must be managed, but “best practice says there are actually partnerships with business that do make sense — when they employ students or when they bring research contracts here — that procurement might be a piece of that holistic thinking.

“The other thing you really need to consider when you’re thinking about an economic development strategy is: Where are you?” she said. “Because economic development strategy is really about the region but you’re doing global connectivity to build your region. Some of the things you do might not help the region but that’s kind of the lens you look through when you look at impact.”

She said she often hears that translating knowledge into society is the key tenet of university economic development, but many land-grant universities are working to create generational prosperity so that more people can send their children to school.

“If that’s a concept that we buy into as a public institution, I think that’s a really interesting economic development strategy.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow 

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