Western Carolina University

WCU'S MILLENNIAL INITIATIVE                                                                                                                 

The University of North Carolina Board of Governors today (Friday, May 12) approved Millennial Campus designation for 344 acres of property adjacent to Western Carolina University's main campus, endorsing Western's plans to create a “knowledge enterprise zone” designed to enhance educational opportunities while promoting economic development for the mountain region.

Approval came as part of the board's May meeting in Chapel Hill. It is the final step in a process that began six years ago when the General Assembly approved Millennial Campus legislation based on a measure originally written by WCU staff. The legislation makes it possible for UNC institutions to seek public-private partnerships to improve the academic experience for students and allow universities to apply their intellectual resources – their faculty, students and staff – to foster economic development to benefit their respective regions and the state.

“We are pleased that the Board of Governors has approved our request, which follows an exhaustive process involving the campus, the local community and the entire Western North Carolina region,” WCU Chancellor John W. Bardo said. “We are especially pleased that the board has endorsed our proposal to transform the Millennial Campus designation into a Millennial Initiative, which goes beyond the management of real estate to the establishment of a knowledge community.”

Pending review of other state officials, WCU plans to develop both the recently acquired property on the west side of N.C. Highway 107 and portions of its existing campus into multiple-use neighborhoods that will become home to a mix of academic buildings, research facilities, business, industry and housing. Through the Millennial Initiative, partners from the university, private industry and government will conduct research and development into scientific and technological innovations that have commercial applications.

University officials say Western's plan is not a conventional “research park” or “business incubator” approach in which research and business activities occur in a separate district, but is instead a new arrangement in which those activities actually will be inserted into the existing, traditional campus to create integrated knowledge communities.

“We envision the development of neighborhoods of interest anchored by core academic facilities that will include business and industry activities, and special interest housing related to specific academic areas,” said Paul Evans, director of WCU's Institute for the Economy and the Future, which will oversee the Millennial Initiative.

The first two neighborhoods to be developed on the new West Campus are expected to focus on retirement, aging and health, with a new $34.8 million School of Health and Gerontological Sciences; and on learning services and education, with a new $34 million School of Education. Western received planning money for the health building as part of the 2004 state budget, and additional preliminary funds for both new buildings are part of the UNC Board of Governors initial capital budget request to the General Assembly for the 2006-07 fiscal year.

University officials believe the health, aging and retirement neighborhood, where students and faculty interested in those areas would study, teach and live, also would provide a good location for private health care provider facilities, specialty housing related to older populations, and companies that supply products or services related to health and aging. The education and learning neighborhood would create opportunities for public-private partnerships in research and policy studies, competitive learning systems, and pedagogy and software development.

The concept behind the Millennial Initiative is to provide students with the education necessary to succeed in the knowledge-based economy of the 21 st century, and to attract new high-tech businesses and industries to the region to provide employment opportunities for those students once they graduate, Bardo said.

“We are attempting to fulfill a promise we made to the people of Western North Carolina to do everything in our power to help keep some of the best and brightest of the region's young people from being forced to leave home to find the type of high-paying jobs available elsewhere,” he said. “We want the children of the mountains to be able to remain in the mountains, to be prosperous, and to be participants in the global economy.”

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Last modified: Monday, May 15, 2006
Copyright 2006 by Western Carolina University