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I reported today on the explosive growth of the University of Rochester. The college has surpassed 20,000 workers for the first time and foresees adding 500 workers a year. The U of R’s impact on the regional economy is huge. In 2010, CGR estimated 47,000 direct and indirect jobs paying $2.3 billion in wages.

I visited iCardiac to show an example of a U of R spinoff company. Local leaders would like to see many such companies, but cofounder Sasha Latypova said there are two big barriers.

“The community needs to grow more entrepreneurs. The community needs to attract more people who are like us,” she said. “We may not be engineers, researchers or clinicians, but people who understand technology, are not afraid of it and can ‘productize’ things.”

I was surprised to find out Latypova and her partners are not scientists. They’re business people. “Steve Jobs didn’t know how to code,” she told me. She said Rochester needs more people who can envision the market potential of U of R’s research.

The other barrier to creating more spinoff companies is money. Latypova said access to venture capital is extremely difficult in Rochester. It’s tough to bridge the “Valley of Death.”

“They also have to think new ways of bridging the gap between research science and commercial products,” said Latypova.

iCardiac has 50 workers. Can you imagine what could happen if dozens and dozens of U of R startups emerge? What if a few of them end up employing hundreds of workers?

CGR’s Kent Garnder ultimately envisions some kind of “Research Triangle,” similar to the one in North Carolina. He said if the U of R and RIT can cover the geographical distance between them, the sky’s the limit.

Gardner and U of R officials believe the 390 Interchange project would help facilitate such a “research triangle.”

On a related note, I have been questioning the estimated 29,000 jobs local leaders say the highway upgrade could create. Gardner says 29,000 direct and indirect jobs could be created if the U of R follows through with its master plan, which calls for adding 4.9 million square feet. That growth would happen over many years. Gardner said the potential for 29,000 is there, but it’s not a firm number.

Potential is the word of the day. Let’s hope Rochester lives up to it.

10 Responses to Dreams of a Rochester Research Triangle

  1. if the U of R and RIT can cover the geographical distance between them, the sky’s the limit.

    It’s well known that there is former rail right-of-way from downtown Rochester to RIT, running through the U of R campus. In fact, the portion between the two campuses was once owned by the U of R (they sold it to the Town of Brighton several years ago). When I worked for Bob Cook, he told me the reason the university had acquired it is that at one time there was a proposal to merge U of R and RIT, and the right-of-way would be used for intercampus road & light rail.

    So with community leaders talking like Kent Gardner’s quote above, is there not a single leader in Rochester’s business/political establishment talking about establishing this efficient, reliable, sustainable, desirable form of transportation?!

    If not, they should consider the question: how many big-name college towns do they know that are auto-centric–?

  2. I know it’s hard to be optimistic in this economy but UR has stayed on a steady upward trend for a while now. If they do add jobs AND some successful spin offs develop we might actually see an out and out boom before everyone else recovers.

  3. “Gardner and U of R officials believe the 390 Interchange project would help facilitate such a “research triangle.””

    Yeah, that way all those undergrads with cars can drive between the 2 campuses with ease… because I know when I was an undergrad, I had plenty of disposable income to spend on a car. Or like RaChaCha said, light rail could link the campuses as well.

  4. January 12, 2012 at 7:56 am Phil Borrelli responds:

    I think Rochester needs its own identity in terms of a research area. Although, I understand the research triangle is merely an analogy, I have always been under the impression that Rochester’s research ran up and down the Genesee with RIT and UR to the south, and Kodak Park to the north.

    To piggy back on Rachacha’s comment a light rail component linking all 3 area’s with downtown’s business and residential community in the middle would focus development in these areas, help struggling neighborhoods along the route, help Kodak Park fill an enormous amount of vacant square footage, and improve our public transportation system.

  5. It’s worth noting that there is already substantial cooperation between the two Universities. For example, they now offer a joint masters degree in Medical Informatics. This sort of academic partnership can go a long way in facilitating Rochester’s Research Triangle. Or Research River, if you will.

  6. I live between RIT and UR. The distance between them is a 20 minute bike ride using the Lehigh Valley Trail. Their cross country runners both use the trail. What “geographical distance” needs to be covered?
    Also, I was talking to one of the engineers on the 390 project. He said that he believes the old rail right of way (now the Lehigh trail) was only open for a short period and may have only been used to bring in equipment and pieces for the UR power station.
    I love the idea of a research triangle for Rochester. I’m a researcher myself, so this kind of talk is great news if you ask me!

    • I think by “distance” he means filling in the space and making better connections. There is a lot of vacant land. How cool would it be to have all of that built up with new companies and research labs?

  7. January 27, 2012 at 5:16 pm RaChaCha responds:

    Brian, I’m glad you’re enjoying the trail! I did some of the original work (along with others) with the Town of Brighton and county officials advocating for a trail to be developed in that corridor. And as it turned out, when the trail was finally developed, the state agency folks involved “borrowed” a signage design I helped develop (and did the initial sketch for) for a nearby state-funded trail.

    About the railroad right-of-way, between the U of R and B-H TL Road there were two railroads running side-by-side heading north into DT Rochester. North of the U of R the Erie followed the west side of the river, and the Lehigh Valley followed the east side (where it terminated at the old station that now houses the Dinosaur BBQ). In the post-war era, after passenger service stopped, and industry pulled back from the river corridor, the railroads removed their tracks between the U of R and DT, but still delivered coal to the U of R power plant. Eventually this service stopped, the tracks were pulled up, and the U of R purchased the parallel rights-of-way south of campus (with an eye toward a road and light rail linking the campuses). Prior to construction of the trail, they turned ownership of the rights-of-way over to the Town of Brighton.

    As for “bridging the distance,” much of the land between the U of R and RIT is floodplain and wetlands along the Red Creek corridor, and likely would not be suitable for new development.

  8. January 27, 2012 at 6:17 pm Chris Whittaker responds:

    But there was a perfect place to place a research triangle that would not just tie in RIT & Uof R, but also Rochester’s State University (Brockport) and Roberts Wesleyan… Elmgrove.

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