SOUTH BEND -- The University of Notre Dame's announcement last week that it landed $30 million for energy research could have economic implications beyond campus.
University-based research has become an increasingly important factor in many college towns, and local business leaders say Notre Dame's efforts bode well for the South Bend area.
Jeff Rea, the president and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of St. Joseph County, said it's been exciting to see Notre Dame's research focus grow in recent years.
"We were thrilled because the experience we've seen in other communities is that (university-based research) has significant economic benefit and spinoff," Rea said.
Notre Dame officials announced in 2008 that the university would lead the Midwest Institute for Nanoelectronics Discovery, a five-year initiative with seven other universities and research institutions. On Thursday, they reported the university will receive $30 million over the next five years to lead the Center for Low Energy Systems Technology, or LEAST, with the goal of finding ways to lower the power requirements for electronics.
Those projects are in addition to ongoing research at the university as well as developments at Innovation Park at Notre Dame, which opened in 2009 to help launch startup companies.
Notre Dame's research awards topped the $100 million mark for the first time in 2010 -- fulfilling a goal the university's president, the Rev. John Jenkins, set during his 2005 inaugural address. The university's research expenditures exceeded $134 million for the 2011 fiscal year, according to a Chronicle of Higher Education report.
Robert Bernhard, the vice president for research at Notre Dame, said university officials hope the activities on campus will help economic development in the area as a whole.
"We're trying to help technology-based companies get started using the intellectual property that comes out of research, so that companies can get started here and stay here," Bernhard wrote in an e-mail.
Staff members from the Chamber of Commerce, as well as local political and business leaders, have seen during annual visits to other cities how university-based research can spur economic development.
A delegation spent two days in October in Pittsburgh, where Carnegie Mellon University, Duquesne University and the University of Pittsburgh have helped the city recover from job losses in the steel industry.
Rea said that beyond the researchers' jobs, which are often good-paying positions, university research can lead to discoveries that give birth to new companies.
Some of those new companies are at Innovation Park. Dave Brenner, the technology park's president and CEO, said the building on Angela Boulevard is 80 to 85 percent occupied with about 25 companies in residence. Another two companies -- Data Realty and F Cubed -- have "graduated" to their own sites in South Bend.
The talent that research draws to a city also can act as a magnet for other companies to follow, Rea said. For example, Pittsburgh's research cachet led Google to set up an office in the city.
"People want to be close to the talent," Rea said. "We get excited when we think of the talent in the area doing research."
Staff writer Kevin Allen: