Western partner in research venture

A proposed three-way partnership among The University of Western Ontario, City of London and Fanshawe College seeks to boost the local economy with the creation of an advanced manufacturing industrial park, similar to Western’s research parks in London and Sarnia.


The city is giving Western 10 hectares and Fanshawe four hectares of industrial land in Innovation Park, located at Highway 401 and Veterans Memorial Parkway. The city will retain the remaining 38 hectares for further advanced manufacturing industries.


Western’s current research park adjacent to the main campus focuses on small-scale research and development in areas such as health sciences and digital media. The Sarnia research park is poised to become a major player in the bio-industrial area.


The new partnership will look at research, development and industry collaboration strictly associated with advanced manufacturing.


Ted Hewitt, Vice-President (Research & International Relations) says this venture will continue the expansion of the university’s research park model.


“It’s really focused on one of the main sectors of growth in this part of the province, where we’ve always had considerable strength here at Western,” says Hewitt of the advanced manufacturing industry. “But it will also help us to move beyond the traditional auto part and auto assembly sector. This has long been a focus in London.”


Western will use the land for research and development of products using metals and composite materials, precision tooling, equipment for medical devices, environment and energy industries, and information technologies.


The advanced manufacturing centre could become an accelerator centre for small companies in that sector, adds Hewitt.


President Amit Chakma considers this partnership to be part of a larger strategy to increase Western’s impact on the broader community. The project signals the willingness of major community partners to work together for community improvement.


“Western is an important institution with considerable capacity to contribute to the future economic development of not only London but of Ontario,” says Chakma, adding the industrial park will help create an environment for attracting the best and the brightest minds.


“By playing its proper role, Western can demonstrate its leadership role by making an impact.”


While development of the industrial park will take several years, Chakma adds it will allow Western to work with partners to create “magnets”, sending a strong signal nationally that Western is building a future based on knowledge economy.


Last year, the university and its researchers earned nearly $5 million in licensing revenue as royalties from product sales totaling in excess of $200 million. One invention, a device to assist swallowing for Parkinson’s and other patients, was licensed to London’s Trudell Medical this past year. WORLDiscoveries, the technology transfer agency of record for Western and affiliated hospitals, is now spinning off an average of five companies per year.


Also, graduates of the Richard Ivey School of Business created about 60 companies in London over the past five years, and in 2008-09, Western attracted over $30 million in funding from companies to assist with product design and service, and to conduct product testing through clinical trials.


Chakma says this latest partnership benefits Western financially, allowing it to share expenses in creating such a large project.


“Very specific to Western, most of our large infrastructure projects are just too costly to operate on our own as we do not receive sufficient ongoing operating funds from funding sources such as CFI,” says Chakma. “Such large scale facilities require industrial partnerships so that the operating costs can be recovered. Also such partnerships allow us to bring our innovations closer to applications.”


Vic Cote, General Manager of Finance and Corporate Services for the city, lauds Chakma for driving the venture forward.


“What we’re looking for is to engage the university and college in becoming partners and helping us gain an edge on economic growth in the city,” says Cote.


By employing  the schools at an entrepreneurial level London hopes to mimic the experience of Kitchener-Waterloo where the University of Waterloo has become the engine of growth in the community.


“There is serious private sector interest in advanced manufacturing in this location and I would have to say this is probably our most significant economic initiative,” he says, noting the cost to purchase and service the land for Western and Fanshawe is about $6 million.


“We have Western and Fanshawe engaged in helping – and graduates helping – to establish companies here in London. That’s what we need here, entrepreneurship from graduates. Your graduates needs jobs and Londoners need jobs, so if you can marry the two it sounds like a good marriage”


Western will be responsible for development on the site and will be subject to agreed upon design criteria. Western will also be responsible for maintaining their facilities and all operating costs, including property tax.


Cote hopes the partnership will help to “kick-start our economy.”


“We can’t do traditional things in traditional ways,” he says. “It’s pretty clear when you look around North America that universities and colleges play a huge part in economic growth, and this is a challenge for all of us to have these institutions step up to the plate, and for us to provide the necessary support to make this happen. This is a first step.”