Wednesday, January 19, 2011

WKU adding research offices, labs

Centre for Business and Research expanding
By Joy Campbell, Messenger-Inquirer
Published: Wednesday, January 19, 2011 12:00 AM CST

Two full-time faculty members from Western Kentucky University-Owensboro are establishing research offices and labs in the Centre for Business and Research at 1010 Allen St. as part of an expanded partnership between the university and the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp.

The researchers' work in biology/biotechnology and food science is all about growing companies and growing jobs in Owensboro, WKU President Gary Ransdell and EDC President Nick Brake said Tuesday at a news conference in the Centre.

"Our faculty is challenged to work with communities to solve problems, and those are different for each community," Ransdell said after the announcement. "The economic development leadership here has identified niches and sectors in biotechnology, food services, health care and agriculture manufacturing. We need to make sure WKU-O has the faculty and degree programs to support those."

The EDC is establishing the Centre as a 38,000-square-foot business incubation and research facility. It's modeled in part after Western's 300,000-square-foot innovation center in a former Bowling Green shopping mall.

High-tech, start-up companies devoted to food science, plant biotechnology and life sciences can rent office and/or lab space in Owensboro's center.

"In less than five years, hundreds of employers have gone through that Bowling Green center," Brake said. "The professors and researchers work hand in glove to make that happen."

Owensboro has been competitive in cost for infrastructure factors such as land and electricity, but talent and technology also are driving forces for infrastructure in today's economy, Brake said.

Universities began playing key roles in economic development after federal legislation in 1980 gave them control over their research and intellectual properties such as patents.

"Owensboro was once forced to the sidelines because we didn't have a university in our backyard," Brake said.

Western is now helping to fill that void for Owensboro, he said.

Chandra Emani, an assistant professor of biology, already has an office in the Owensboro center, and Hanna "John" Khouryieh, assistant professor, food processing, will be establishing his office.

Both professors teach at WKU-O.

College and high school students interested in these applied research areas will be able to get hands-on, relevant experience in the labs .

Ransdell told the group of community leaders and educators that a shift is taking place in where economic development is occurring in Kentucky. It's not just occurring in the golden triangle of Lexington, Louisville and northern Kentucky.

"I'm not sure what that geometric shape is coming from Louisville to Bowling Green and Owensboro/western Kentucky," Ransdell said.

WKU-O is helping Owensboro grow the population of baccalaureate degree holders, while also helping to grow the economy, he said.

"It won't do any good to produce more degree-holders if we're not focused on their relevancy," Ransdell said.

WKU-O is focused on health care and biotechnology and food science and also those general courses leading to degrees.

This partnership is part of the Memorandum of Agreement among WKU, Daviess Fiscal Court and the EDC.

Ransdell commended the Owensboro partners for taking a risk to create the first building on the new WKU-O campus. That action has created a model in Kentucky for state universities, he said.

University of Louisville President James Ramsey and other university and community leaders announced Nov. 12, 2010 that U of L also will help in forming and growing health care, food service and agricultural companies that start at The Centre for Business and Research in Owensboro.

U of L will offer its support through Nucleus, the Life Science Innovation Center.