WESTERN LAUNCHES NEW INSTITUTE                                                                                                      

CULLOWHEE – Culminating an effort that began 18 months ago, Western Carolina University's board of trustees on Friday (Sept. 2) approved a reorganization of the university's economic development division, a change designed to strengthen Western's capacity as a research and policy analysis asset for Western North Carolina.

Under the plan, the Center for Regional Development becomes the Institute for the Economy and the Future. The restructuring, initially proposed in an April 2004 university report on long-term economic strategies for WNC, will enable Western to move from simply providing broad-based outreach services to becoming a regional “think tank” specifically focused on targeted economic development strategies, Chancellor John W. Bardo said.

“This change reflects our growth as an institution and our need to better leverage the intellectual capital and resources of the university to help the region prosper,” Bardo said. “To accomplish that goal, we must address regional priorities in a more strategic fashion. We must create an organized package of ideas and innovation, multi-disciplinary research, and economic outreach to promote regional development.”

Among the activities to be carried out by the new Institute for the Economy and the Future are research, policy analysis, polling and surveys, and employment trend analysis. The IEF also will craft policy at the state and regional levels to foster growth and innovation in industries – especially those with potential to have a positive impact on the WNC economy.

IEF activities will be in direct support of Western's Millennial Initiative, a comprehensive regional economic development strategy made possible by the acquisition of 344 acres of property adjacent to the main campus. University officials plan to develop the property as a multiple-use neighborhood that will be home to a mix of academic buildings, research facilities, business, industry and housing.

As part of the Millennial Initiative effort, the IEF will help recruit entrepreneurs, start-ups and small businesses, will provide strategic and tactical services and support for regional economic development, and will seek funding for additional research activities, Bardo said.

The IEF also will be home to the new Research, Rapid Survey and Polling Center, a survey research unit to focus on overnight polling, analysis and focused survey research designed to meet the quick-turn-around demands of public and private clients, and to conduct long-range research projects and economic impact analyses.

Paul Evans, formerly director of the CRD, will now serve as executive director of the IEF.

Also housed in the new institute:

- The Office of Sponsored Programs, which administers sponsored economic growth and development initiatives, including the Economic Development Administration program of the U.S. Department of Commerce, marketing partnerships with Smoky Mountain Host regional travel and tourism organization and American Whitewater association, and the Blue Ridge National Heritage Project in association with the AdvantageWest Regional Economic Development Commission.

- The Center for Broadband Applications, focusing on the growing communication and business demands as high-speed Internet access comes to WNC. The IEF's broadband thrust will involve applications prototyping and broadband testing on multiple fronts – the Virtual Business Accelerator, a custom-built Web portal and online information center designed to assist start-up companies; the Digital Heritage Project, a media center that will digitize the region's collections of heritage and cultural archives, preserving them and making them available digitally; and the Picture Lab, a laboratory for spatial analysis of economic data and business information.

Other efforts will include faculty projects dedicated to social and venture capital, cluster mapping, native botanical commercialization, homeland and cyber security, educational technology, and recreation and tourism.

“The IEF has a critical role to play in driving the economic vitality of the region, one that fits with the notion of being a center for research and policy analysis within a regional university,” said Evans. “With our new focus and direction, we will be in a position to increase our efficiency and improve our institutional effectiveness in the region.”

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Last modified: Friday, September 2, 2005
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