By Tom Still

MILWAUKEE – At the State University of New York in Albany, Carlos Santiago helped forge a partnership between IBM and the campus that led to the creation of a $1.5 billion “center of excellence.”

Now that he’s taken up residence in Wisconsin, Santiago sees no reason why UW-Milwaukee can’t aspire to do the same.

Santiago, who took office this summer as the new chancellor of UW-Milwaukee, is determined to build the research and development assets of Wisconsin’s second-largest university. From a relatively modest platform of $25 million per year in R&D spending today, Santiago sees UW-Milwaukee growing to more than $100 million in research spending over five years and driving Southeast Wisconsin toward a high-tech, knowledge-based economy.

“We are leveraging UW-Milwaukee’s research enterprise,” Santiago told a meeting of the Wisconsin Innovation Network in Milwaukee. “We want to become a hub of high-tech activity worthy of investment ナ and to have a significant impact on the economy.”

It’s been said so often as to become a clich’, but it’s still true: Without a healthy economy in Milwaukee, Wisconsin cannot prosper as a state. Milwaukee leads the state in population, employment, the number of private employers, total payroll, total reported income and, counting the surrounding area, high-tech employment.

In late 2003, a survey published by We Energies identified 500 information technology companies in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee, Washington, Racine, Kenosha and Walworth counties. These firms employ 21,550 workers with a total annual payroll of about $1.2 billion. The report also tagged 75 biomedical firms, employing 4,000 workers with a total annual payroll of $250 million.

Milwaukee is slowly transforming its image from that of a blue-collar manufacturing town where nothing much happens before or after dark to that of a 21st century city inhabited by young workers, cool companies and cutting-edge technologists. But this Extreme Makeover cannot be completed without the help of the area’s major academic institutions, and UW-Milwaukee is the largest with 147 degree programs, 11 schools and colleges and 26,000 students. UW-Milwaukee is the only UW System campus outside of Madison that grants doctoral degrees, which feeds its research base.

A recent study by the Wisconsin Technology Council noted the importance of academic R&D to the state’s economic development. Using economic multipliers developed by the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis, the $25-million-plus in academic R&D spending on the UW-Milwaukee campus translates to nearly 1,000 high-paying jobs.

Since 1998, Santiago said, UW-Milwaukee has witnessed an 85.2 percent growth in extramural (money originating outside the campus) research awards. Santiago plans to stimulate even more growth through a new Vice Chancellor for Research post, adding two Ph.D. programs per year for the next six years, and increasing the amount of interdisciplinary research.

As examples of high-growth programs, Santiago cited campus research in water, addiction and behaviors, mathematics, medicinal chemistry and Internet-based maintenance solutions for manufacturing. Each program has grown with relatively little investment, Santiago said.

UW-Milwaukee also leads non-Madison campuses in making research-related “disclosures” to WiSys, which manages intellectual property that arises from inventions by professors and other academic researchers. WiSys is a subsidiary of the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which handles patents and license agreements for discoveries made on the UW-Madison campus.

Finally, Santiago sees UW-Milwaukee as producing a significant share of the city’s college-educated workforce. Whether it’s Milwaukee, Madison or Melbourne, Australia, statistics from around the world demonstrate that cities with large populations of college-educated adults fare better in attracting and retaining high-wage jobs.

“A growing UW-Milwaukee is absolutely necessary if the city, and the state of Wisconsin, is to grow economically,” Santiago said.

On Thursday (Nov. 18), the Biomedical Technology Alliance will meet at Marquette University to seek greater cooperation between academic research institutions in Southeast Wisconsin. Representatives of UW-Milwaukee will be at the table, Santiago said, seeking “strategic partnerships and collaborations.”

Outside UW-Madison, the second largest cluster of academic research in Wisconsin includes the Medical College of Wisconsin, UW-Milwaukee, Marquette, the Milwaukee School of Engineering and UW-Parkside, all in southeast Wisconsin. By leveraging UW-Milwaukee’s size and scope, that cluster can grow – and so can the area’s economy.

Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council and the Wisconsin Innovation Network. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.