July 13, 2015 9:00AM
The U.S. Department of Commerce has announced that Pittsburg State University is the recipient of a $330,000 grant that could lay the groundwork for the development of a science and research park at PSU that will be a “key commercialization point in regional business development.”
“We're very excited by this award and view it as a vote of confidence in our vision for robust engagement in the economic development of the region,” said Shawn Naccarato, executive director of the Center for Innovation and Business Development at PSU.
The 2014 Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) Science and Research Park Development grants are run by the Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship (OIE). It is a new initiative designed to advance innovation and capacity-building activities in regions across the country.
The Science and Research Park Development Grants program provides funding for feasibility and planning for the construction of new or expanded science and research parks or the renovation of existing facilities.
At PSU, the grant will fund the development of a plan to support the commercialization of the scientific and technical work emanating from the Kansas Polymer Research Center (KPRC) and elsewhere at the university.
Naccarato said securing the RIS grant was a cooperative effort that included the university; the City of Pittsburg; Project 17, a multi-county effort to improve the economy of southeast Kansas; and SEK, Inc.
Jay Byers, Pittsburg assistant city manager, said the grant would help define and prioritize the resources available in Pittsburg as the university and the city look for ways to commercialize research underway or planned at PSU’s Tyler Research Center.
The Tyler Research Center is at the heart of the plan to develop a science and research park. Opened in 2007, the building is home to the Kansas Polymer Research Center (KPRC), where scientists hold multiple patents and numerous honors, including the 2007 Presidential Green Chemistry Award. The research at the KPRC is focused on using renewable oils such as soybean oil for the creation of polymers that are the backbone of products such as “green” floor tiles, flexible foams used in car seats and furniture, and even a temperature-sensitive gel used in athletic shoes.
“We have developed deep technical capacity at PSU,” Naccarato said, “and now is the time to identify the best ways to leverage and maximize that capacity to support the growth of both the university and the regional economy.”
Heather Morgan, executive director of Project 17, said the potential impact of the research park on the southeast Kansas economy is significant.
“The Science and Research Park will be a tremendous regional asset,” said Morgan. “Partners pulling together for the benefit of the region will strengthen both the local and regional economy and the park will attract world-class talent and innovators who will work to develop knowledge and products we can't even imagine today.”
The first step, under the grant, will be the analysis of the innovative capabilities of the region in areas that include advanced manufacturing, polymers, automotive technology, wood technology, construction technology, electronics and robotics, casting and metallurgy and graphics imaging and packaging.
That analysis will project the scientific and technical nature of innovations likely to be generated and identify the facilities that will be required to test theories, validate innovations and assess production options. The plan will include recommendations for how the public, private and academic communities in the region can interact in a sustainable way to identify business opportunities.
The second phase will examine the economic impact on the region of the plan developed in the first phase.
Finally, in phase three, a design consultant will define the layout of existing facilities and any additional space that is recommended with an emphasis on using conservation, renewable energy and green design practices. This phase will include building and site plans, as well as recommendations and specifications for the equipment that should be installed in the science and research park.
All three phases of the study are expected to be completed by September 2016.
PSU officials said they believed the infrastructure and relationships already in place made PSU’s grant application a strong one.
For example, the city of Pittsburg has set aside vacant land surrounding the Tyler Research Center for economic development associated with the facility and the current building includes space for true “bench-to-market” product development. Researchers in the KPRC have a long and successful record of working with private industry partners as well as government agencies and they routinely collaborate with colleagues in the Department of Chemistry and the Kansas Technology Center to take advantage of expertise and facilities.