Utah Tech moves forward in planning phase of 183-acre innovation district – St George News

ST. GEORGE- Utah Tech University has officially entered the planning phase for its “Innovation District” – a potentially 183-acre campus near the Desert Color Center, west of St. George Regional Airport.

Aerial map showing the upcoming construction of Desert Color and the Utah Tech land, here listed as “DSU”, St. George, Utah, July 15, 2022 | Photo courtesy of Cheryl Caplinger, St. George News

According to Utah Tech’s preliminary prospectus, “The District will provide high-impact and transformational opportunities for students to engage in active and applied learning with industry partners in laboratories, research and development facilities, business incubators and accelerators that advance the career readiness of graduates”.

“Phase 1 of the Innovation District (Utah Tech) campus would ideally open by 2026,” the presentation reads, “and would eventually range in size from a few dozen acres to possibly all 183 acres of the property.”

“The District would be governed by the Foundation for Innovation (UTU) and/or one or more affiliated entities with a 2030 goal of generating $100-200 million in annual economic activity and supporting applied education experiences and authentic for over 2,000 undergraduate and graduate students. ”

Michael Lacourse, Utah Tech provost and vice president for academic affairs, spoke to St. George News about the university’s official plans for the project.

View of 183 acres of land purchased by Utah Tech last year, at the junction of South River Road and SR-7, St. George, Utah, July 17, 2022 | Photo by Truman Burgess, St. George News

Lacourse said Utah Tech wants to create an “innovation ecosystem,” where “different people with money, expertise, and business training” in the community can collaborate with Utah Tech students to benefit mutually to everyone involved.

Utah Tech already has an Atwood Innovation Plaza on campus that shares a similar vision with this future Innovation District, but Lacourse explained that despite only being open five years ago, the Innovation Plaza is already at capacity.

“We just don’t have enough space,” Lacourse said. “We’ve had about 200 patent applications coming from the Innovation Plaza over the past five years. We have about 50 companies that have come out of this center. Right now, the building is filled with small incubating businesses. We have passed space.

Lacourse wishes to expand the vision of Innovation Plaza into the new district, further developing interaction between students and start-ups in the community, while maintaining Innovation Plaza for smaller/upcoming businesses.

Lacourse explained that it’s called “bumpability,” what he calls “fortuitous interactions with opportunities where ideas are constantly flowing… where the resources are there to help you take an idea and turn it into a intellectual property”.

“The idea is that because you have all these people with all this expertise, all this creativity, all in a small space, you force them to cross paths.”

In addition to greatly benefiting Utah Tech students in their career growth, Lacourse said, the district will also help keep tuition low by providing additional funding to the university.

St. George residents work at Utah Tech’s Innovation Plaza, St. George, Utah, July 15, 2022 | Photo by Truman Burgess

Cheryle Caplinger, executive director of strategic partnerships and academic affairs at Utah Tech, explained how this innovation district differs from innovation districts at other universities, such as MIT, San Diego State University, and Georgia Tech. .

“A lot of the innovation areas you come across are modernized spaces, like the one in California which is a former football stadium,” Caplinger said. “Ours is interesting because we create it from scratch.”

“Sometimes you see (Innovation Districts) doing a lot of research with a lot of third-party companies, and you may or may not see people working together,” she said. “That’s going to be the difference here – we’re going to see this as a very active space where people regularly work collaboratively.”

As a member of the Association of University Research Parks, Caplinger serves as Utah Tech’s principal liaison. She regularly interacts with other universities and innovation district leaders and gathers insights on lessons learned from other universities.

Caplinger said the future Innovation District will help solve problems in southern Utah, such as finding water solutions through water desalination and creating research to reduce the costs of local energy consumption.

The concept of Innovation Districts first took shape in the 2014 research project titled “The Rise of Innovation Districts: A New Geography of Innovation in America”, by Bruce Katz and Julie Wagner of the Brookings Institute.

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