University, Business Collaboration Can Enhance Regional Prosperity, Say Conference Speakers

The relationship between Universities, Innovation and Economic Growth was the focus of a conference hosted by the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland on November 16 and 17, 2006. 

Over 120 university and economic development officials, public policymakers, venture capitalists, business leaders, and academic researchers convened to discuss ways to increase and improve collaboration between the higher-education and business communities and to examine how university R&D can contribute to innovation and economic development. (Conference presentations are available at

   Welcoming the conference attendees, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland President Sandra Pianalto explained why the Bank -- which is engaged in setting national monetary policy -- is focusing on education. Pianalto noted that since the last recession, employment in the region served by the Bank (Ohio, western Pennsylvania, eastern Kentucky, and the panhandle of West Virginia) has lagged the nation. To better understand the region's disappointing economic performance, the Bank's researchers have been focusing on the factors that drive economic growth. They found that differences in state income levels over the past 75 years can be explained largely by two factors: innovation and education. Pianalto says that universities stand at the crossroads of education and innovation. Universities have a role not only in educating students and conducting research, but also in fostering the formation of new business ventures. The goal of the conference is to improve understanding of what it takes to transform creative ideas into bankable companies that can contribute to regional prosperity. 

The conference featured a number of distinguished speakers:

 Adair Morse, from the University of Michigan, suggested that elite universities may be losing their competitive edge, because improvements in communication technology make physical access less important.

 Pierre Azoulay, an associate professor at Columbia University, and Bruce Weinberg, an associate professor of economics at The Ohio State University, discussed their respective studies on the relationship between productivity of researchers and their collaboration with research "superstars."

Harvard University Economics Professor Richard Freeman, in his keynote address, "Does the Location of Ideas Matter in the Internet Age?" argues that maintaining good jobs in the U.S. requires focusing on research and development that can lead to the creation of such jobs.

Maryann Feldman, from the University of Georgia, examined factors that determine faculty participation in university technology transfer, while Gerald Marschke, associate professor of economics at the University at Albany, SUNY, found evidence that the influence of university research on industrial innovation is growing.

Carl Kohrt, president and CEO of Battelle, noted that our nation's economic viability depends on the willingness and ability of businesses, industries, research institutions, and universities to collaborate.  Donald Smith, Jr., vice president of economic development at Mellon Pitt Carnegie Corporation, contends that universities play a key role in facilitating the transition from lab to local market.

Robert McMahan, science and technology advisor for the State of North Carolina, reviewed the history of the state's Research Triangle Park and the factors leading to its success. He also discussed North Carolina's strategies for fostering education and innovation.

Friday's keynote address was presented by Lee T. Todd, Jr., president of the University of Kentucky, who outlined how research universities can help drive America's new economy.

Jeff Davis, director of new business development for Proctor & Gamble, gave the audience a look inside P&G's innovation machine, while a panel of experts concluded the program by discussing venture financing and spin-offs.


The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland is one of 12 regional Reserve Banks that, along with the Board of Governors in Washington, D.C., comprise the Federal Reserve System. As the nation's central bank, the Federal Reserve System formulates U.S. monetary policy, supervises certain banks and all bank holding companies, and provides payment services to depository institutions and the U.S. government. Payment services include check clearing, electronic payments, and the distribution and processing of currency and coin.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, including its branch offices in Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, serves the Fourth Federal Reserve District, which includes Ohio, western Pennsylvania, eastern Kentucky, and the northern panhandle of West Virginia.