If we look at jobs created in this country over the past 20 years, John Bardo said, a stark fact appears: Nearly all came from tech companies less than 5 years old.
What that means, the Wichita State University president told faculty and staff members on Friday, is that it isn’t enough for Wichita to have just aerospace agriculture and oil driving local economics.
Bardo on Friday unveiled plans for as many as 20 new buildings on the innovation campus that he’d like to see built at WSU over the next two decades. The plans call for a new $70 million business school. In January, he plans to break ground on a $43 million “experiential engineering” building, which would connect business partners with WSU students, with WSU researchers – and with high-tech 3-D printers, plasma cutters, high-tech lathes and lasers.
The campus expansion would include buildings for businesses, restaurants, a hotel, new residence halls and a 600-car parking garage, primarily built through partnerships with private businesses. The construction would take place on land now used as the campus golf course.
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Research universities like WSU are being used all over the world now for innovation and economic development, he said. “China is building hundreds of them,” Bardo said.
He hopes WSU becomes a big hub in the country but conceded he’s going to need state money, business partnerships and tens of millions in donations.
For the good of the state economy and for WSU, Bardo said, “We are looking at specializing in (economic) diversification. ... We rely too much in this area on just a few industries.”
He will need tens of millions in state money to help do this. Dire predictions being made by some state legislators about budget shortfalls have not deterred Bardo from planning the campus expansion. There are worse things than budget shortfalls, he has said, such as the kind of economic decline he’s trying to help head off.
One key to his plan, though he said he couldn’t reveal a name yet: WSU has been in extensive talks for months now with “a major company” about the company moving onto the WSU campus, in one of the planned new buildings, and joining in a partnership with WSU.
The first and one of the biggest buildings in the plan would be a $43 million “experiential engineering” building putting private industry people in partnership with WSU researchers and students. It would include a “maker space” where anyone in the community or the region could come in and make things using WSU’s researchers and high-tech tools. WSU would try to help people invent things and even get them patented, he said.
This is all about increasing relationships with the community, creating an ecosystem for good ideas, he said.
Bardo deflected most questions about getting the money and about timing, though he said the experiential engineering building construction will begin in January.