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James Milway, executive director of the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity.
James Milway, executive director of the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity.

Earlier discussion

How can universities help cities grow? Add to ...

When it comes to using educational systems as an economic development tool, we lag behind such global centres of innovation as California’s Silicon Valley. To turn things around, cities must recognize that quality higher education can give them a competitive advantage.

This statement holds true for most Canadian cities and regions, with the possible exception of the Technology Triangle.

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Encompassing the cities of Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo, the region has long understood the value of close ties between business and academia. Its almost 60,000 full-time students – Waterloo’s two other key schools are Wilfrid Laurier University and polytechnic Conestoga College – are a vital source of talent for local companies.

James Milway, executive director of the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity, a Toronto-based think tank, believes his hometown could build stronger links to its universities. Other than Waterloo, he argues, Canadian companies and cities overlook higher learning.

He cites two outstanding U.S. examples of academia and business working in harmony: Silicon Valley and Massachusetts’ Route 128.

Silicon Valley’s cluster of research and teaching universities includes Stanford University, while Route 128 is home to the likes of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Some great technology comes out of those schools,” Mr. Milway says, noting that Silicon Valley in particular draws many talented immigrants. “Then you’ve got venture capitalists who are sniffing around to find where [they] can invest. And the thing just gets going – it becomes almost a perpetual motion machine.”

How can Canadian cities jump on this money-making bandwagon? James Milway answered readers' questions and explained how Canada's cities and regions should link up with higher learning institutions to drive economic growth.

Niamh O'Doherty - Good morning everyone, and welcome to our live chat with James Milway, executive director of the Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity, who will talk about how universities can drive economic development. Please feel free to send in your questions now.

10:30

Niamh O'Doherty - Everyone, please welcome James Milway. James, maybe you could give us a quick overview of why cities should look to universities to drive economic development?

10:32

[Comment From Jim Milway]

Two main reasons. One is you've got a collection of highly specialized knowledge and ongoing research - that's primarily the profs, but they're assisted in their research by some future academic stars. Secondly, the students. This is your highly qualified workforce of the future

10:32

Niamh O'Doherty - Nicely put. Now, onto the questions from readers....

10:32

[Comment From Billy]

Hi Mr. Milway. I work at a university that wants to showcase to the city and province that it can be a hug partner in current economic development and potential new development. The research, resource and knowledge capacity is currently not leveraged well. While city officials know that the university is here, having them think about that in a broader sense relating to economic development is difficult. Do you have any suggestions for how to best ensure that both the city and the school are always thinking of the other? How do we tell them so it sticks?

10:34

[Comment From Jim Milway]

First, I think you need to make sure that the stengths you bring to the city are of relevance to the current and desired economic strategy. If you have a good overlap then it's a matter of showing them where the two are in sync. That's a first step.

10:36

[Comment From Jim Milway]

This requires that the university really does understand what the city's economic structure, stengths, and aspirations are. Perhaps what are the big problems they're facing.

10:39

[Comment From Jim Milway]

If there's no strong link between what the city needs and what you've identified as the school's strengths then look harder. Perhaps the school has decent capabilities in the area that the city really needs help in. In summary, it's almost like a marketing program - what does my customer need and what do I have that can help.

10:39

[Comment From Guest]

Good morning Jim, I manage the David Johnston Research + Technology Park at University of Waterloo and am the current president of the AURP Canada (Association of University Research Parks) which represents 27 parks across Canada that are home to 40,000 knowledge workers and 1,000 tech companies.

10:39

[Comment From Guest]

I would like Jim to comment on the importance of long term collaboration between industry and academia and it's impact to the Canadian Science and Innovation agenda.

10:41

[Comment From Jim Milway]

Good morning to you. I think the real challenge we have in this area is in getting businesses to demand more from their academic institutions and people. Our policy in Canada has tended to be build it and they will come. Do great science and then push it to business. What's called commercialization.

10:42

[Comment From Jim Milway]

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