The Big Apple Has A Peach of an Idea

An audacious plan for a new applied-science graduate school attracts major universities.

By Mark Rosenzweig, Editor in Chief

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An engineering school provides a significant economic boost to its community. It lures companies to the area. Technology-based firms in particular favor locales with a rich pool of specialists. In addition, the school's own research often leads to spin-off firms that site themselves near campus. Silicon Valley exemplifies the enormous economic engine that prestigious local universities can power.

The first phases will involve private spending exceeding $800 million.

Most cities, of course, recognize this and strive to make the most of their academic institutions for economic development. New York City is taking a bolder approach for achieving such economic benefits — it's aiming to get a big-name university to develop a new graduate school of engineering and applied science.

Now, the Big Apple already has a number of fine engineering schools, as I personally can attest. I got my chemical engineering degree from The Cooper Union and my son graduated from the engineering school at Columbia University. And, over the years, I've visited City College, Manhattan College and the Polytechnic Institute of New York.

However, when you think of top-tier graduate programs in engineering and applied science, New York City institutions don't immediately come to mind, although Columbia alumni may disagree.

Lacking a world-class graduate school in engineering and applied science, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, a billionaire businessman, has decided to create one. In December 2010, he announced an initiative called Applied Science NYC to entice a prestigious university to establish a graduate school in the city.

"A new state-of-the-art applied sciences research school would be a major asset for New York City as we develop a 21st century innovation economy," he declared. "The city is committed to finding the right partner and providing the support needed to establish such a facility because research in the fields of engineering, science and technology is creating the next generation of global business innovations that will propel our economy forward."

"Universities are always a major magnet for talent — and the world's most dynamic companies always gravitate to places where they can find the best and the brightest," notes Bloomberg. "… A new applied sciences campus has the potential to be a real economic game-changer that will create jobs immediately and for generations."

"The business community regards this project as the single most important action the city could take to ensure New York's continued leadership in the innovation economy," adds Kathy Wylde, president and CEO of the Partnership for New York City.

The city will contribute as much as $100 million to the project and has offered land for the campus. Potential sites include the south end of Roosevelt Island in the East River, part of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, and a portion of Governor's Island in New York Harbor.

The deadline for proposals was late October and the city received seven submissions, from:
• Amity University (India);
• Carnegie Mellon University and Steiner Studios (a film and television production company);
• Columbia University;
• Cornell University and Technion — Israel Institute of Technology;
• New York University, University of Toronto, University of Warwick (U.K.), Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, and others;
• New York Genome Center, Rockefeller University and others; and
• Stanford University and the City College of New York.

The proposals contain plans for new facilities ranging from under 400,000 ft2 to over 2 million ft2 that would house hundreds of faculty and thousands of graduate students, says the New York City Economic Development Corp. (NYCEDC). The first phases will involve private spending exceeding $800 million; ultimately investment may reach $2.5 billion. The city is insisting on high environmental standards for the facility but some proposals reportedly go far beyond those.

Institutions will focus on areas including computer science, electrical engineering, information technology, digital media, sustainable urban growth and public health, notes the NYCEDC. There's no mention of chemical engineering so far.

Over the next 35 years, the new graduate school will generate about $6 billion in overall economic activity throughout the city, directly spin-off hundreds of startups, and create more than 30,000 permanent and construction jobs, according to an analysis by the NYCEDC.

At this point, informed observers consider Cornell and Stanford as the top contenders. Both schools are noted for their computer science and engineering programs. Cornell already has its medical school in the city while Stanford has had a clear role in the growth of Silicon Valley.

New York City expects to select a winner this month. Ground-breaking for the graduate school could occur later in 2012.


MARK ROSENZWEIG is Chemical Processing's Editor in Chief. You can e-mail him at mrosenzweig@putman.net.

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