How Locating Near a University Could Benefit Your Company's Bottom Line
Utilizing the resources of nearby universities will help a company to engage in R&D, acquire best practices for business, and enhance work force development and recruitment.
Patrick O. Gottschalk, Chair, Economic Development Team, Williams Mullen (Fall 2011)

From California' Silicon Valley to Austin's "Technology Cluster," there are numerous examples of successful collaborations between universities and industry. Chief executive officers and others involved in site selection should consider whether collaboration with one or more universities would enhance their next facility location decision. In the right circumstances, working with a research university in the area in which your company is locating may prove to add tremendous value. Three key areas need to be considered:

If these considerations are important to your company's decision, an effective partnership with one or more institutions of higher education may help position your next facility location for long-term success.

Research and Development
If your company is in the manufacturing, high-tech, or life sciences industries, and you are constantly striving for ways to make your product or technology better, you may benefit from an ongoing strategic affiliation with a university for research and development services. These services may complement existing in-house expertise, or your firm may outsource the innovation it needs to advance in the marketplace. If all other site conditions are met, and the business environment is conducive, then the value added by a relationship with a nearby research university may be significant. Great strides in innovation could be made in both the core competencies of your company and those that might be complementary.

Moreover, successful collaborations tend to attract new business, and successful new businesses attract other new businesses. The ripple effect can be felt even in a heavily industrialized city like Pittsburgh, where the acclaimed Carnegie Mellon University Collaborative Innovation Center has attracted more than 200 new companies - including Apple Pittsburgh, Disney Research Pittsburgh, and Intel Research Lab - and 9,000 jobs, and has become the catalyst for considerable revitalization. Other examples of such strategic research partnerships abound:

In addition to these well-established success stories, there are newer research collaborations taking shape in cities throughout the United States. For instance, in Virginia, a new partnership among the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, Virginia State University, and companies such as Rolls-Royce North America, Canon Virginia, Newport News Shipbuilding, Siemens, Sandvik, Chromalloy, and others is gaining attention. The Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (CCAM) will focus initially on surface coatings science and manufacturing processes. CCAM's mission is to bridge the "valley of death" between the laboratory and commercial exploitation of products by putting CCAM researchers, university researchers, and industry technicians in the same facility. This experiment in innovation shows great promise and enjoys the full support of state and local government. The CCAM facility will be located in Prince George County near the new Rolls-Royce Crosspointe plant.

There are many other less widely known ventures under way that foster collaboration among state government, economic development agencies, universities, and the private sector that may be worth investigating. Additionally, your company may also want to collaborate with a university on federal funding opportunities in connection with R&D. Sustaining partnerships between companies and universities can be an excellent way for the private sector to gain access to funding streams that help companies reduce the risk of their research and development activities. These relationships are also beneficial for universities since federal funds are being increasingly targeted toward innovative public-private partnerships.

Best Practices for Business
And if staying ahead of the curve in connection with best business practices is important, the business and commerce schools at a nearby university might be helpful to your company's bottom line. These types of programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level are constantly searching for the best ways to organize, manage, and lead business entities. Many universities offer leadership studies, and some universities have dedicated leadership programs that are independent of their business schools.

In Richmond, Virginia, the University of Richmond's Jepson School of Leadership Studies is a unique institution, with a full-time, multidisciplinary faculty dedicated to leadership studies. The school invites local, state, and national leaders to play an active role in the Jepson community as "leaders-in-residence." Clearly, an affiliation with a university on the leadership and management front may add long-term value as well.

One of the strategies implemented by many companies to tap into the intellectual resources of nearby undergraduate and graduate business schools is to have key executives serve on the schools' advisory boards. Business schools offering executive education seminars can supplement a company's training program. And participation in such a program can be an exceptional value to a company and its executives. Providing executives to serve as guest lecturers offers another opportunity to raise a company's profile and foster valuable relationships.

Work Force Development and Recruitment
Finally, it is also evident that universities can provide a rich supply of new intellectual talent for both the engineering and management needs of your company. Internships, summer employment, and research projects expose the company and the students to each other and can be mutually beneficial, especially over time. Universities can also be extremely helpful in identifying what training and skills are needed by companies and assisting companies in mapping out training programs.

Many benefits can be derived from a constant stream of students, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, visiting and working at your facility. If a good working relationship develops between your company's human resources department and the university's career placement office, that collaboration can provide a steady flow of students who may meet your needs for all types of positions.

In sum, before a final location decision is made, a CEO would do well to evaluate his/her company's need for a university affiliation and examine, with the relevant state and local economic development officials, whether a presentation by one or more university representatives in that state would enhance the location decision. If you conclude such an affiliation would be helpful, you will not only improve your company's bottom line, but you will also be helping to magnify the existing economic impact of the university with which you have chosen to partner.