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Fast-changing economy: Collaborations essential to emerging "knowledge economy"

Thoughts to share in a fast-changing economy

Collaborations essential to emerging "knowledge economy" centers

The Great Recession may be over but the Great Resetting shows no signs of ending.

The global economy has changed - perhaps seismically, perhaps in ways that will challenge America's leadership for years to come. Milwaukee is at the crossroads of that economic recalibration.

It is a city and a region that could continue to shed jobs and economic muscle, an outcome that would doom all of Wisconsin to indirectly share in its decline, or it could accelerate the process of remaking itself as an emerging center of the "knowledge economy."
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So long as Milwaukee's recent trend toward working in partnerships continues, I'm betting it's the latter.

A historic challenge has been Milwaukee's go-it-alone business culture, in which everyone is a competitor and no one is a collaborator. That's been changing for the better, and most noticeably in the last five or so years.

One of the best-known examples is the Milwaukee 7 Water Council, which has banded together companies and institutions that previously never thought much about their common interests in the region's "water cluster."

The Water Council is almost maniacally Milwaukee-centric, largely ignoring water companies and research outside M-7, and it's hard to find much evidence of start-up companies being formed around water technologies. But when the world finally figures out that clean water comes with a cost, Milwaukee stands a chance of being one of the places that can help.

GE, WARF partnership

One quiet but productive partnership that has endured for years is the research relationship between GE Healthcare and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, which is the nonprofit intellectual property arm of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Joint agreements have helped transfer campus-based technologies into commercial uses.

More recent examples represent efforts to leverage the region's expertise in energy, engineering and health care - sectors of the "knowledge economy" that could also distinguish Milwaukee while reaching beyond the region itself.

The Wisconsin Energy Research Consortium will help the region compete for federal energy dollars, especially around work on energy storage technologies. Its academic partners are engineering schools at Marquette, Milwaukee School of Engineering, UW-Milwaukee and UW-Madison, which has already won a $135 million grant tied to next-generation biofuels. Its business partners include American Transmission Co., DRS Technologies, Eaton, Johnson Controls, Kohler, Rockwell Automation and LEM USA.

Medical technologies

The Wisconsin Medical Entrepreneurship Foundation, to be formally launched Monday, will push for collaborative innovation across a variety of medical technologies. The rise of interdisciplinary research, meaning research that melds knowledge from a mix of sciences, is driving medical innovation worldwide. This alliance will share expertise and resources not often found in a single organization. Its partners include Aurora Health Care in Milwaukee, BayCare Health Systems in Green Bay, Marshfield Clinic in central and northwest Wisconsin, and the WiSys Technology Foundation, a WARF subsidiary that helps pull technology off UW System campuses outside of Madison and Milwaukee.

The Milwaukee Regional Research Forum is the name for a group of seven health care research institutions that have come together around a federal Clinical and Translational Science Award. A $20 million grant will promote research and clinical collaborations that will lead to better treatments and training while reaching out to communities and business partners.

Collaborators with the Medical College of Wisconsin on this endeavor are Marquette, MSOE, UWM, the BloodCenter of Wisconsin, Children's Hospital and Health System, Froedtert Hospital and the Clement J. Zablocki VA Medical Center.

Research collaborations

A Monday luncheon hosted by the Public Policy Forum will examine how this National Institutes of Health grant can be used to expand research collaborations and business partnerships in Milwaukee. The region lacks a single research institution the size of UW-Madison - perennially one of the top three in the nation - but it is home to a number of academic R&D centers that can be a powerful economic force if they work together.

In other cities and regions that have turned the corner on becoming "knowledge economy" centers, collaborations have been essential. Milwaukee has a way to go before its culture fully embraces the notion of companies, research centers and even government working together, but it's a trend that can help define progress in a global economy increasingly built on such partnerships.

Those cities and regions that prosper in the Great Resetting will be those that leverage resources from within and learn to compete on a larger stage. Milwaukee was one of those cities in the past. It can do so again.

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