In a time of technological and economic transition, the business of research and technology transfer has become a popular development strategy. Research and technology transfer are vehicles for refocusing state and regional economies away from declining extractive and manufacturing industries, and toward jobs of the future in innovative science- and technology-oriented businesses. A commitment from leaders in academia, government and private industry has helped establish a growing number of regions as centers for technology.

The nation's public and private research universities are showing more interest in, and enthusiasm for, building their research capabilities to attract federal and industry research dollars, and to serve as engines for economic development. In 1980, Congress passed the Bayh-Dole Act, which allowed universities to keep the rights to government-financed research conducted in their labs. Since then, the number of patents issued each year to universities has escalated. Concurrently, as the federal government has cut back funding for economic development, state and local governments have had to bear more fiscal responsibility for economic development initiatives. As a result, many state and local governments have begun to view universities, their patents and their valuable land as a potential economic engine.

Higher-education institutions are finding that having sufficient research and incubator facilities is a critical factor in strengthening research enterprise, attracting and retaining top research talent, and nurturing start-up companies. More research and technology transfer activities are being housed in university-affiliated research parks. These parks are for-profit environments separate from non-profit research facilities on campus, and are models for co-location of academic, government and industry users. They provide an environment that fosters innovations and encourages partnering, collaboration and resource sharing. States are supporting the growth of these research parks by helping to acquire land, build facilities, purchase equipment and create a supportive regulatory environment.

Research parks may house the full continuum of science, including education, research, technology transfer, and mature corporate research and development, or they may focus on just one component, such as technology transfer. Universities seek a means to transfer scientific discoveries from their non-profit research labs to a for-profit environment so they can generate financial rewards. State and local governments provide funding with the goal of promoting high-growth industries that can generate economic activity and new jobs. Businesses occupy space in order to benefit from the synergies created through human interaction and the sharing of resources with other tenants in the park.

Developing a plan

A university-related research park creates opportunities for the university to achieve its missions related to advancing knowledge, supporting the local community's economic development efforts, and facilitating faculty entrepreneurial activities. So what goes into planning and building a research park to achieve these benefits? Some of the primary issues that must be considered:

  • Project concept

    Every project begins with a champion who has an idea and recognizes the benefits that will result. The idea for a research park may start with a university looking for business opportunities for its faculty, or training and employment opportunities for its students. It also may begin with an opportunity for enhancement of intellectual property/technology transfer efforts, by a regional or state government that views the park as a possible economic development tool, or by private industry looking to develop a cluster of like-minded businesses.

  • Multiple stakeholders

    Because a research park will have multiple stakeholders, it is crucial to develop shared project goals and objectives, select a project leader, and define communication procedures and channels. This will ensure that one person can make decisions confidently that represent a consensus, and he or she will be responsible for overseeing and coordinating complex decisions during project development.

  • Multiple funding sources

    Funding for a research park generally comes from multiple sources such as universities, banks, government grants, philanthropic fundraising and industry contributions. These sources must be identified early so that unique requirements for program, design reviews, construction standards and funding timeframes can be incorporated into the schedule. The amount of funding available affects design quality, so the symbolic qualities of the building, the imagery of the building and the desired quality must be aligned with the construction budget at the earliest planning stages.

  • Design quality

    It is important to have a facility that researchers, academics and businesses want to be in. Its image and quality is important, not only to those working in the facility, but also as a showcase for science and technology. It often is recommended that a research park have conference facilities or a flexible, multiuse space. Such a facility should be made available to all technology-related interests in the community to establish the park as a focal point for technology in the area.

  • Special site considerations

    Appropriate zoning for research activities must be in place, as well as any required environmental permits for water use, lab exhaust, sewage discharge and waste handling. The park will require adequate electrical power, sewer and telecommunications systems, and transportation/shipping facilities.

Accommodating tenants

The one constant in today's research environment is that science continually is evolving. Thus, research buildings must be flexible enough to accommodate the future of science. Individual buildings often are built before all tenants are identified, so the space must be flexible enough to meet the needs of a variety of users.

Modularity and adaptability are the key attributes for a master plan and for the design of individual buildings within a research park. Modularity at the master-plan level allows buildings to be developed in any sequence. So, if certain buildings are earmarked, it is best if they can be built in sequence to meet market demand. Likewise, modularity is crucial to enabling space to be subdivided in a variety of ways within each specific building. This is achieved by creating building floor plates from repetitive modules of laboratory, support and office space. In turn, each module of space must be adaptable enough to support a variety of users, while allowing individual tenants or researchers to customize their spaces.

The building infrastructure, or the mechanical, electrical, telecommunications and plumbing systems, must be robust enough to allow the use of current and future equipment, some of which will have stringent temperature, humidity, vibration and power requirements. If there are power fluctuations or losses, valuable experiments and precious time may be lost. Therefore, an uninterrupted power supply and backup emergency power are required for research buildings. The building structure must be strong enough to dampen vibration, and support the heavier load of laboratory bench work and equipment.

Some university and other research labs working with exotic agents and pathogens require extraordinary security technology. But for most research parks, the primary security risks are theft of equipment, vandalism and perhaps most important, theft of intellectual property. An analysis must be made to determine how much security is needed at the perimeter of a park.

Security features may include controlled access to the site and fencing or landscaping around the perimeter of the park. At the building level, security concerns can be addressed by providing key card access at entries and additional surveillance or locks at specific labs, corridors, supply rooms and equipment rooms.

Features such as an impressive physical setting, available transportation and cultural amenities are key attributes in attracting skilled, scientific personnel. Parks should be planned in harmony with existing natural features rather than obliterating them. The expectation for sustainably designed, energy-efficient buildings is especially relevant to research buildings that aim to foster innovation to improve the quality of life.

In the future, research parks may evolve into science cities that will expand to include support infrastructure and amenities necessary for everyday life — housing, hotels, restaurants, banks, conference centers, shopping and recreation. What is certain is that partnerships of academic, government and private industry will continue to support technological innovations that have the potential for a profound effect on economic development and quality of life.

Rosenblum is a principal at Einhorn Yaffee Prescott, Architecture & Engineering, PC.

R&D magnets

The University at Albany (N.Y.) East Campus Technology Park is based on a co-location model of academia, state government and industry. It is intended to be a magnet for the business of research and development. The park will foster collaboration, interaction and synergy through the sharing of information and resources. Its goal is to create regional and university research facilities in order to attract biotechnology companies and nationally regarded faculty.

An existing campus of a defunct pharmaceutical company consisting of 58 acres and 365,000 square feet of space was purchased in March 1996 with a $5 million grant from New York state. The campus has been expanded to 87 acres with plans for a total of 1 million square feet of new space. The first new, multi-tenant signature research and development facility is now under construction.

Similarly, the idea of bringing a technology incubator to the campus of the State University of New York at Farmingdale was initiated by the college in 1997. The school wanted a place on campus where its students could gain hands-on experience through internship programs and other interaction with commercial companies.

The local business community was supportive because a technical skill base was needed to help stimulate business activity throughout Long Island. Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, an independent, non-profit research institution on Long Island, also became interested in the concept as a way to dissuade the companies it worked with from moving off of Long Island and out of state. New York State also saw the potential and provided $15 million in financing for the first building on the campus. And so, the Broad Hollow Bioscience Park was begun. It is dedicated to growing a cluster of biotech companies into the Route 110 Bioscience Corridor on Long Island. It supports the development of biotech startup companies by providing affordable research labs and shared facility resources, by using the resources of the SUNY Farmingdale campus, and by partnering with surrounding businesses and research institutions. In return, tenants must agree to contribute by offering student internship programs and providing guest lecturers to the school's biotechnology programs.