Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Russi discusses OU’s role in region’s economy
By Susan Thwing-McHale, Staff Writer
Oakland University, along with other Michigan schools, has an important role to play in improving the state’s economy, according to OU President Gary Russi. Russi was a recent guest on “50 CEO’s on the D,” a Detroit Renaissance Reports podcast, where he discussed what the university is doing to actively engage students in the community in order to stop the state’s “brain drain.”
The Detroit Renaissance is a leadership organization dedicated to accelerating the region’s economic growth. Russi serves on the organization’s 57-member board. Detroit Renaissance is composed exclusively of the chief executive officers of the region’s most significant employers and largest universities.
The “Detroit News” also published an editorial in its May 28 edition, “Engage students to stop Michigan’s brain drain,” written by Russi about the same issue.
“As Michigan struggles to find its economic footing,” he wrote in the editorial. “One thing we can’t allow to continue is the state’s brain drain.”
During the podcast, “Gary Russi on Engaging Students in the Community,” he explained that universities must demonstrate to the public how learning goes beyond the classroom and into the community by creating programs and opportunities for students in order to help bolster economic growth.
“Community engagement is re-energizing our way of educating students, and schools must take an active role in providing students with the means to be involved with their region,” he said. “The future of education lies in taking learning and discovery off campus and applying it to help the community grow and solve problems.”
The university’s new medical school, planned in partnership with William Beaumont Hospitals, is just one of the ways Oakland is assisting the community. The school, when completed, will generate about 11,000 new jobs and have an economic impact of about $1 billion annually, Russi said.
Oakland’s current economic impact generates $500 million each year. Of the 78,000 alumni from OU, 80 percent are living and working in Michigan, Russi said, adding that Oakland is known for its strengths in applied research and partnerships with Fortune 500 companies and technology firms in Auburn Hills and along the I-75 corridor.
“As a result of these partnerships, and our location in Auburn Hills, our students benefit from incredible internship opportunities and job placement after graduation. 87 percent of our students are employed within six months of graduation, an amazingly high statistic,” he said.
Oakland has also gotten involved in a growing trend among universities to support economic development through business incubators. The incubators stimulate innovation, foster the creation of jobs and allow faculty and students to engage in community ventures.
“Nationally, 87 percent of all incubator graduate firms are still in business, compared to approximately 50 to 60 percent of U.S. start-ups failing in the first five years. Every $1 in investment in a local incubator produces $30 in local tax revenue,” Russi said. “But just as importantly, 84 percent of company graduates stay in the community.”
The university’s OU Incubator demonstrates similar success.
“Nine developing companies are now clients with OU Incubator, and three of those have founders who came directly from our faculty,” he said. “Six of the nine companies have retained 70 employees and they have created 17 new jobs.”
Russi said the key is for universities to engage with the community to find solutions to current challenges and create opportunities.
“We are applying the knowledge and expertise of our faculty researchers and students, making resources available to house start-up businesses, helping them identify investment capital, and partnering with local cities, governments, SmartZones, and economic development groups to support the growth of the region,” he said. “Through our research labs, facilities, faculty and students, we assist entrepreneurs in transforming ideas into new business ventures, developing patents, commercializing new products… and ultimately creating jobs in Michigan.”
Russi said the future holds many more opportunities for universities across the country to engage with their communities to create growth. He sees Oakland University at the forefront of this larger role for universities within the strategic planning of their communities.
“We will see more university offices of research and more college centers for economic development,” he said. “There will be an increased focus on preparing our students for a new kind of workforce fully able to excel in this new knowledge economy. Employees will be taught to work in teams, embrace technology and lifelong learning, and will be encouraged to enter the workforce with an entrepreneurial spirit.”
To listen to Dr. Gary Russi’s “50 CEOs on the D” interview, visit the Detroit Renaissance podcast Web site.