Wichita State University president John Bardo’s ambitious vision of an urban institution on the leading edge of high-tech job creation and business innovation is coming into focus, having just gained impressive support from NetApp and the Kansas Legislature.
A California-based global data storage company with 500 employees in Wichita, NetApp is the first company to announce it will be a tenant at the new “innovation campus” Bardo has planned for half of what is now WSU’s 18-hole golf course.
NetApp already is on campus, where 12 WSU employees are working on joint projects with the company. Plans call for more hiring this summer, even before next year’s expected start of construction on the new building.
Another recent announcement bodes well for the future of the ongoing partnership between Cisco Systems and WSU – last week’s hiring of Cisco technologist Ken Russell to lead WSU’s Advanced Networking Research Institute, which will relocate from Don Beggs Hall to the new innovation campus.
John Tomblin, WSU’s vice president for research and technology transfer, is talking to a variety of other companies about becoming partners with WSU.
“The vision we have is for the innovation campus to utilize 21st-century technology and weave together university research, technology transfer, graduate and undergraduate education, and new business innovation and entrepreneurship in one site,” Tomblin said in a statement.
The legislative endorsement of WSU’s big thinking came in the form of the otherwise-flawed school-finance bill, which included $2 million for the first of four buildings envisioned for the innovation campus. There are other pluses for WSU and Wichita in the legislation, which Gov. Sam Brownback has yet to sign but promoted Monday at WSU (in a visit overshadowed by the questions about a provision stripping K-12 teachers of due-process rights).
The bill would restore some of the money WSU lost when lawmakers cut higher-education funding and capped some salaries last year. It also would deliver $500,000 more in needed funding to the National Center for Aviation Training, which also was unfairly shortchanged by the 2013 Legislature and has its own partnership with WSU’s National Institute for Aviation Research.
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, credited Bardo with getting skeptical lawmakers excited about his plans. “His skill broke through a lot of barriers – and what really got their attention is that it is clear that he’s got the business community supporting these ideas,” she told The Eagle.
As Bardo has enthusiastically explained for the past two years to all who will listen, the benefit of having more business-driven and entrepreneurial research and product development on campus won’t be all WSU’s. It will be shared by Wichita and Kansas, in the form of a stronger, more diversified economy.