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U of M calls for collaboration to boost statewide economy

Maura Donovan, director of the University of Minnesota’s Office of Economic Development, speaks Thursday at the 10th Annual Worthington Bio Conference at the Worthington Event Center. Ryan McGaughey/Daily Globe

WORTHINGTON — “Open for business.”

That was the message conveyed by Maura Donovan, director of the University of Minnesota’s Office of Economic Development, during her presentation Thursday afternoon at the Worthington Bio Conference. Donovan’s remarks followed those of her colleague, Brian Herman, vice president of research of U of M, who spoke in the morning on transforming research enterprise through increased public-private partnership.

Donovan, whose lunchtime address was titled “Leveraging and Connecting Regional Centers of Excellence,” has no shortage of experience in the private sector, having been employed for 20 years at Medtronic — a majority of that time in research and development. Now, she’s trying to stimulate development around the state from an opposite perspective.

“I find I’m sometimes pinching myself and thinking it’s ironic that I’m sitting on the other side of the table, as it were,” Donovan said. “I am eager and excited to reach out to you and say …. collaboration between the academic sector and industry to promote economic development is possible.”

During her last “four or five years” at Medtronic, she said, she became convinced that the challenges industry faces in economic development “are too great a burden to carry alone.” The university’s Office of Economic Development is designed to facilitate development through an emphasis on a unique type of teamwork.

“A broader, louder voice can achieve more things than working independently,” Donovan said. “I have a real passion for innovation, technology development and the partnering that’s necessary to bring that forward.”

The University of Minnesota is a statewide resource that’s available for all to utilize, Donovan added. The Office of Economic Development is a system-wide entity — not just in Twin Cities — that’s part of an academic institution ranked in the top 10 among national public research universities.

“The strategy of the university is cut across multiple technologies … which is why I think it’s very appropriate that we consider the university in this economic development space,” Donovan said. “I think the U of M should be on your short list when you’re looking at groups to consider going to.

“What we’re trying to do is put a Chamber of Commerce within the university to help the business community get access to things that they need.”

The office can offer assistance in examining “things you need and you care about today as well as in the future,” Donovan said. It’s looking across industry sectors as much as it is individual industry representatives, and partnering with multiple organizations and agencies that care about economic development.

“There is where I believe the real magic is going to happen,” Donovan said of that type of collaboration. “The office was created to facilitate access to system-wide resources.”

The Office of Economic Development’s work includes convening economic development forums, encouraging entrepreneurship, supporting workforce development, enabling global linkages, and providing research and technical resources. Donovan called on her experience with Medtronic to reflect on one area in which the office can help.

“With global linking, I know from personal experience that can be harder than we think,” Donovan said, recalling a trip with Medtronic to China. “We didn’t realize there were resources straight down the street that would help us be more prepared as we went into the Chinese market.

“The goal is enhancing collaboration at multiple levels,” she continued. “We don’t have a one- size-fits-all mentality. We are willing to be flexible at setting up the arrangements that meet the broader needs of a community. … Listen and connect, engage and inform — it doesn’t get much simpler than that.”

Prior to Donovan’s presentation, Worthington Regional Economic Development Corp. Manager Abraham Algadi introduced Paul Weirtz, president of AT&T Minnesota, who spoke briefly of his company’s investment in the state. AT&T has invested more than $525 million across Minnesota, Wiertz said, adding that the company is “the largest investor in America’s economy.”

Added Weirtz: “We feel we’re playing an essential part in developing that much-needed broadband capability in Greater Minnesota and particularly rural Minnesota.”

The 10th annual Worthington Bio Conference, which is coordinated by the WREDC, continues today from 7:30 a.. to 3 p.m. All activities will take place at the Worthington Event Center.

Daily Globe Managing Editor Ryan McGaughey may be reached at 376-7320.

Ryan McGaughey

I first joined the Daily Globe in April 2001 as sports editor. I later became the news editor in November 2002, and the managing editor in August 2006. I'm originally from New York State, and am married with two children.

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