Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

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.

More related to this story

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]

Unfortunately our business community is often not aware of how advanced knowledge can help them in their own companies. So investing in tech transfer offices at universities is like pushing on a string.

10:45

[Comment From Guest]

Do you think Research Parks have a key role to play in this chasm?

10:48

[Comment From Jim Milway]

Sure. The businesses there are obviously interested in what's going on at the universities. So that has to be low hanging fruit for interaction by the school. The challenge is getting out to the "unwashed". It's like my advice to the city. What are the needs and what strengths match up with those needs.

10:50

Niamh O'Doherty - Jim, can you describe any examples of cities that have combined well with universities to grow?

[Comment From Jim Milway]

The best example is Waterloo. I think Saskatoon and U Sask. are working well together in the area of biotechnology. Brock has great strengths in oenology and I'm hoping that the Region is drawing on those strengths.

10:52

[Comment From Jim Milway]

I'd be happy to hear from others on great examples they are aware of.

10:52

[Comment From Guest]

Most of the parks in Canada host an incubator or accelerator facility specific to their sector. Examples like the Accelerator Centre in Waterloo for tech start-ups and MaRS in Toronto with their life sciences/bio incubator facitility as only two in Canada. Graduating companies is a top objective of each of our centres and the reality is that most of them are coming out of the insitutions, creating companies, and staying in our regions vs going to the US or elsewhere. Do you support the concept of the Incubator/Accelerator? Why? And how could they be doing a better job?

10:54

[Comment From Jim Milway]

I think the concept of accelerator makes sense. But I'm not aware of any systematic research that sets out their success rate and the return on investment.

10:55

[Comment From Jim Milway]

In some research we're doing right now it appears that our strongest Canadian companies - OpenText, McCain, Harlequin were exporting very early in their lives. If you have companies that don't have a vision and strategy to take over the world,then they won't.

10:56

[Comment From Jim Milway]

So I would be troubled if many of the companies in the accelerator were not thinking about exports - almost from Day 1.

10:58

[Comment From Guest]

Agreed. I cannot speak for all the centres across Canada, but it is an entry criteria for our companies when they apply to be a client of the Accelerator Centre.

10:59

[Comment From David]

Ryerson University's Digital Media Zone (DMZ) has focused on student innovation in a particular field and has seen close to 30 spin off companies graduate from that incubator.

11:00

[Comment From Jim Milway]

That's great. Does the DMZ provide business strategy advice?

11:01

[Comment From Guest]

What about collaborations between universities and private industries? This would help funding with research in academia and help business grow as well.

11:01

[Comment From Jim Milway]

And can I urge Ryerson to follow these companies over the next few years? How many are still around five years later?

11:02

[Comment From Guest]

David, the DMZ is a very different model from many of the other centres. I like the success rate! I too am interested in the stickiness factor to the GTA.

11:03

[Comment From Jim Milway]

Agreed. But the missing partner is the business community. Our federal and provincial governments have been providing significant amounts of R&D support to universities in the hope that the effort would spill over to business R&D. It hasn't. Our challenge for our business community to step up.

11:03

[Comment From Guest]

Waterloo is listed as one of the successes that comes to mind, but we obviously struggle with our own growth issues. One is building our Arts & Culture community at the same speed as our tech community. Do you have any examples of other canadian cities that have been successful in this area and how important do you think the balance in for long term prosperity?

11:06

[Comment From David]

The Ryerson DMZ does provide that and connects the students to a broad range of other resources too.

11:06

[Comment From Jim Milway]

Richard Florida is the expert here. His research shows that the types of workers in your tech community (and other knowledge intensive industries) will gravitate to cities with the cultural amenities. I know Waterloo Region is working at that. But don't forget you've got access to great arts and culture universities in Toronto. And Stratford down the road is working on that front too.

11:06

[Comment From Guest]

How do we make businesses "step up" in that regard then? Since federal funding is towards research labs in universities (which has steadily decreased over the last few years unfortunately), how can we convince businesses to invest in academic research and fuel more innovation in Canada? This is already the scenario in the States where major institutions are collaborating with private companies (drug companies for example)...

11:08

[Comment From Jim Milway]

In the drug industry you have a bunch of companies who really do understand the importance of research. Here In Ontario I understand the government, industry, and academia are collaborating on making Ontario a world leader in drug trials. It plays to our strength and our population diversity.

11:09

[Comment From David]

There is some funding specifically to address this need (industry-academe collaboration) through the Ontario Centres of Excellence programs - a program model that has been adopted by other regions, incidentally.

11:10

[Comment From Jim Milway]

More generally, we have to put the pressure on our businesses through making markets more competitive and welcoming international trade. We've done lots on the tax front and we've funded our university research pretty well. But without competitive pressure, many businesses won't feel the need.

11:12

[Comment From Jim Milway]

We also need to recognize that our manager cadre in Canada has to improve. Right now only a third of people in the management occupations have a university degree. Just over a half do in the US. Sophisticated managers and businesses will draw on research capabilities at universities.

11:13

Niamh O'Doherty - Can you expand on that a little Jim? What are the best ways to encourage a more improved group of managers?

11:16

[Comment From Jim Milway]

Well this will sound self serving given my affiliation with Rotman. But we produce far fewer business grads per capita than in the US. We actually produce more in science and engineering (Ontario results). It' s mostly a supply problem - there are fewer spaces available for undegrad commerce especially. The marks a student needs to get in to a program are ridiculous.

11:16

[Comment From Janice Paskey]

Jim, as far as I can tell universities are about research. Maybe managers don't need university, maybe they need training, coaching and shorter programs.

11:16

[Comment From Guest]

Do you think there is a need for more R&D within private industry itself in Canada? From what I know, drug companies here focus on marketing/advertising and sales, most of the R&D is in the States (except for maybe Sanofi-Pasteur in Toronto). Merck-Frosst in Montreal was the last biggest private industry with 300 scientists that shut down over a year ago... perhaps this is a reflection of the lack of R&D going on in industry and too much reliance on academia in universities to run the show?

11:17

[Comment From Jim Milway]

Another area would be in the incubators. I would encourage them to ensure that they are spending as much time on the business strategy of their firms as they are on the science.

11:19

[Comment From Guest]

Jim, do you have any advice for an undergraduate arts & cultural student regarding talent refinement. To utilize the talent of students who seek further connections with the business sectors.

11:20

[Comment From Jim Milway]

R&D is a funny. Just doing R&D won't get you the spillovers. You could make the case that companies can look around the world - or just across the border for the R&D they need. But those companies who have an aggressive strategy are more likely to do some of their own R&D. So in a sense private sector R&D investment is a signal that we have top notch companies

11:24

[Comment From Jim Milway]

I really do think business provides a fantastic outlet and opportunity for people with an arts and cultural background. Business is about problem solving and interacting with others - customers, suppliers, competitors. The issues arising there have to be relevant to arts and humanities. One area that is hot right now is business design from traditional industrial design to applying those principles to business processes.

11:26

[Comment From Jim Milway]

We've also done some research that shows the wage rewards to greater social intelligence skills (e.g., writing, team building) are steeper than for analytical skills. Google Ontario in the Creative Age - done by the Martin Prosperity Institute.

11:26

Niamh O'Doherty - Thanks Jim. Any last thoughts on the subject before we wrap up this live chat?

11:28

[Comment From Jim Milway]

Going back to cities and universities, I urge the two solitudes to understand each other better. Economic development is closely related to post secondary education and cities are becoming more and more important actors. They need each other.

11:29

Niamh O'Doherty - Thanks very much Jim, and thanks to the readers for some insightful and interesting questions. Please feel free to continue the discussion in the comments section - looks like there's a lot to talk about!

11:29

[Comment From Jim Milway]

My pleasure.

11:30

Niamh O'Doherty - Thanks again everyone.



<iframe src="http://www.coveritlive.com/index2.php/option=com_altcaster/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=f715c25fe3/height=650/width=460" scrolling="no" height="650px" width="460px" frameBorder ="0" allowTransparency="true" ><a href="http://www.coveritlive.com/mobile.php/option=com_mobile/task=viewaltcast/altcast_code=f715c25fe3" >How can cities make the most of universities?</a></iframe>


Single page

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular