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Universities and Their Impact on the Economy and Society

2/29/2012 | German House New York

Universities and Their Impact on the Economy and Society

This discussion addressed the symbiotic relationship between universities and their surrounding areas.

Both the small German university town of Heidelberg and the metropolis of New York City prioritize academics, research and development as a means of fostering growth and maintaining economic competitiveness in the 21st century and beyond. On February 29, 2012, Prof. Peter Meusburger (Universität Heidelberg) and Euan Robertson (New York City Economic Development Corporation, NYCEDC) discussed the symbiotic relationship between universities and their surrounding areas, exemplified by the disparate environs of Universität Heidelberg and New York City’s soon to be built Tech Campus.

Prof. Peter Meusburger, whose main areas of research include the Geography of Knowledge, Science and Education, the Geography of Labor, and Economic Geography, presented Universität Heidelberg’s past and future influence as a catalyst for innovation. The town of Heidelberg is located in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, one of Europe’s leading regions in innovation activities, with high patent-intensity and a significant amount of spending on research and development. Founded in 1386, Universität Heidelberg is Germany’s oldest university. As a center of excellence, the University is a key economic driver in the region. Its widespread campus, with research facilities across town, makes Heidelberg a “UniverCity” that fosters knowledge transfer between academia and industry, both on and off campus. Together with BASF, the world’s leading chemical company, which is headquartered in nearby Ludwigshafen, Universität Heidelberg started a joint laboratory, the Catalysis Research Center (CaRLa). Since its launch in 2007, CaRLa has become a groundbreaking pilot project for the networking of business and science.

Euan Robertson, Executive Vice President at New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), discussed New York City’s most recent policy initiative for academic progress, the highly visible Tech Campus competition, which unites Cornell University and Technion—Israel Institute of Technology in a cutting-edge campus, to be built on Roosevelt Island in 2014. His presentation gave an historic overview of the various transformations New York has undergone in order to address major changes in both national and international economies.

Today, New York finds itself again at an economic inflection point, as the city’s population continues to expand faster than private sector employment can accommodate. New York is, however, quickly emerging as a major center for technology and innovation, as well as becoming a center of successful basic research and development, due largely to the city’s proximity to some of the world’s finest universities. Top-tier schools such as Columbia, NYU, Princeton, Rockefeller, and Yale University are all located within a 100 mile radius of the city. Relative to its economic scale, New York can still expand as a center of applied science and engineering, which was confirmed by the NYCED’s 2008 “game changers” exercise. This year-long-analysis was spurred by the financial crisis and sought to identify the city’s strengths and opportunities for economic growth. As a result, the concept for the new interdisciplinary Tech Campus was developed. Cornell University, well-regarded for its engineering and computer science programs, and Technion, Israel’s leading university in knowledge transfer and home to 75% of the country’s engineering graduates, were selected to develop the new campus’ programs and infrastructure. It is anticipated that large sums of private capital will contribute to the project. The City of New York will contribute technical assistance, real estate advantages, as well as capital funding ($ 100 million) to get the Tech Campus off the ground. The campus opening is projected for 2017.

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  • Featured Speakers

    • Peter Meusburger

      Distinguished Senior Professor, Universität Heidelberg

    • Euan Robertson

      Managing Director, Center for Economic Transformation, Executive Vice President, New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC)

    • Dr. Joann Halpern (Moderator)

      Director, German Center for Research and Innovation; Adjunct Professor of International Education, New York University