by Cherie Duvall Jones
Once a rust-belt community, South Bend, Ind., has developed an enterprising strategy to connect partners, investments and infrastructure, helping the city become a Midwestern hub of high-tech research and economic growth.
A number of initiatives make up the playbook of South Bend's technological transformation, starting two years ago when the Semiconductor Research Corporation's Nanoelectronics Research Initiative (NRI) selected the University of Notre Dame as the fourth of its national research centers.
A strong partner of the city, the South Bend-area university and its technical work in nanotechnology was attractive to NRI, whose goal is to advance research that will be the basis for the next generation of computer chips. Recognizing the importance of this Midwest Institute for Nanoelectronics Discovery (MIND), the city committed $50 million to support efforts to commercialize its resulting work.
As a result of such efforts, last year, MIND produced new prototypes related to computing architecture and energy efficiency. According to South Bend Mayor Stephen Luecke, technological innovation such as this can lead to new, ground-breaking industries.
"Notre Dame has made a major commitment to research and commercialization of research at the university, which we think bodes well for the greater South Bend area," said Luecke. "In the long run, we really expect to transform South Bend's economy, we expect to see new jobs, new investment in our community, good high paying, high-tech jobs that will help us to move forward to really create some growth of wealth into the community."
The development of MIND has already guided the city in moving forward. It has helped stimulate the growth of a dual-site, state-certified technology park.
Located on the northeast side of South Bend, Innovation Park at Notre Dame was designed to facilitate commercialization for ventures at various stages of development. The park, which includes collaborative areas, wet and dry labs, conference rooms, office suites and incubation facilities, draws on the unique assets of the university's faculty, students and national alumni base.
Since its opening last year, the park has received state grants and qualifies for tax benefits.
The second technology park site, to be located in the near west side of the city on the former Studebaker automobile manufacturing complex, is currently being cleared for development. Ignition Park will serve as a potential "landing zone" for successful ventures originating at Innovation Park to commercialize and manufacture products. By doing so, companies will continue to receive support services and other benefits from being part of the same state-certified technology park.
"We've been testing on the site both for vibrations and electromagnetic frequencies to make sure that it's a site where you can do high-level research in nanoelectronics," Luecke said. "We have found that there's a great footprint there for being able to do that very precise and very sensitive type of activity. So we feel very good about the site."
Luecke also feels good about the approach his city has taken in emerging its tech-based economy, which has already yielded strong results that promise to pay off in the long run.
As his city looked at how to best leverage its assets, it became clear that South Bend was a well-positioned channel to turn university research into viable, market-ready commercial ventures. He believes that other cities should also do their research to see what roles they can play in creating partnerships to stimulate their economies.
"We think that one of the things that cities can do is become a real world layout for some of the ideas that are coming out of research," Luecke said. "... I think our partnerships with researchers on campus sets us apart from other communities."