By Tom Still

MILWAUKEE – It’s more than 60 years old, attracts $17 million in research grants and contracts annually, and its scientists have found ways to reduce post-surgical bleeding, prevent fetal deaths, reduce the body’s rejection of transplants and provide safer blood transfusions.

Chances are good, however, you have never heard of the Blood Research Institute at the Blood Center of Wisconsin. Flanked by the Medical College of Wisconsin and the Children’s Hospital on Milwaukee’s west side, the Blood Center of Wisconsin is known nationally for the quality of its research but remains far from a household name – even among those thousands of Wisconsin residents who benefit, directly or otherwise, from its services.

The Blood Center of Wisconsin is also a major employer, with about 800 employees working in a network that serves 54 hospitals in 28 counties – a figure that includes about 125 investigators, technicians and others in the research institute. And while the Blood Research Institute isn’t a degree-granting institution, its researchers work shoulder-to-shoulder with colleagues at the Medical College of Wisconsin and other academic centers.

It is a quiet but tangible example of the value of academic research and development to Wisconsin’s economy, which has been battered as much as any by the recession but which houses an asset that will help to drive the inevitable recovery.

A report released Jan. 28 by the Wisconsin Technology Council charts the source of $1.1 billion in academic R&D dollars in Wisconsin and makes the connection between that spending and economic activity statewide. Some highlights:

  • Academic research and development activities in Wisconsin totaled about $1.067 billion in the latest year, according to the National Science Foundation. That figure includes science and engineering research by the UW System, the Medical College of Wisconsin and other private colleges and universities.  It does not include about $25 million in S&E research by the Marshfield Clinic and $17 million by the Blood Center of Wisconsin, or $72 million in non-S&E research at the UW-Madison.
  • Academic R&D is responsible for 38,000 jobs, directly and indirectly, in Wisconsin. That is according to an economic multiplier (36 direct and indirect jobs for every $1 million in R&D spending) used for decades by the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis. 
  • Academic R&D represents an area where Wisconsin performs well versus other states in attracting federal dollars. Wisconsin is 13th nationally, even without the inclusion of the Marshfield Clinic and the Blood Center of Wisconsin, which don’t fit the traditional NSF definition of academic research institutions.
  • Academic R&D in Wisconsin has continued to grow, but the pace of that growth has slowed in recent years due in part to federal budget priorities.
  • Academic R&D in Wisconsin could be at risk unless state support for the basic science and capital structures supporting such research is maintained. Other states are investing in their academic science and engineering structures because they believe it makes sound economic sense.

While the UW-Madison at nearly $841 million stands as the No. 1 source of academic R&D in Wisconsin – and among the leaders in the world – the report notes the importance of other research clusters.

The 2007 figures reported by the National Science Foundation include $54 million in R&D spending combined by other UW System campuses, including (rounded figures): UW-Milwaukee, $40 million; UW-La Crosse, $3.4 million; UW-Stevens Point, $3.1 million; UW-Superior, $2.5 million; UW-Eau Claire, $1.3 million; UW-Oshkosh, $1.1 million; UW-Green Bay, $1 million; UW-Platteville, $540,000; UW-Stout, $360,000; UW-River Falls, $287,000; UW-Whitewater, $223,000; and UW-Parkside, $218,000.

The report says Wisconsin’s annual academic R&D figures also include $172 million in research spending by private institutions such as the Medical College of Wisconsin ($158.2 million), Marquette University ($9.74 million), the Milwaukee School of Engineering ($3.74 million), and Lawrence University ($301,000).

Those research centers are contributing to regional economies statewide. In the case of UW System research, it will be important to preserve core state support – even in a tough budget cycle – so those centers can continue to add economic value through the recession and beyond.

In business terms, it’s called protecting market share: Wisconsin has built a competitive edge in academic R&D over time. It is an edge we cannot afford to lose.

Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. The 44-page report on “The Economic Value of Academic Research and Development in Wisconsin” is available online at