Public Policy Forum Blog

R&D on the rise at Milwaukee-area universities

A recent Public Policy Forum report looked at the impacts university research can have on local economic development and presented several models that could help to expand technology transfer in southeast Wisconsin. We found that while coordinated infrastructure is needed to convert research into new businesses and jobs in the local economy, the impact on local economic development is also related to the level of investment in research.

New data from the National Science Foundation on total university research and development spending reveals positive trends for Milwaukee. Four Milwaukee-area universities combined to invest $281 million in research and development in 2010, up from just over $100 million in 2000. In addition, while the collective research investments at Milwaukee institutions are still far lower than the over $1 billion spent by UW-Madison, which ranks third in the nation in research spending, Milwaukee-area universities collectively increased research spending at a significantly faster rate than UW-Madison over that time period.

The table below shows the growth in R&D expenditures at Milwaukee, Madison, and Chicago universities over the past 20 years, as well as the national rank for each institution on that measure in both 2000 and 2010. The Medical College of Wisconsin has more than doubled its R&D expenditures since 2000 and now is poised to become one of the top 100 research institutions in the U.S. UWM has made large gains as well, more than tripling its R&D expenditures since 2000.

Source: National Science Foundation – National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics

The following table shows the total R&D spending at Milwaukee, Madison, and Chicago universities since 1990. The collective investments of Milwaukee’s universities have grown from 18% of that of UW-Madison in 2000 to 27% in 2010. As a group, Milwaukee’s universities have expanded research spending at a faster rate than Chicago’s universities as well.

It will be interesting to track these investments over the next 10 years, especially in light of UWM’s major research and development push, which includes expanding the Great Lakes Water Institute, developing the new Innovation Park in Wauwatosa, participating in the water research and business accelerator at Reed Street Yards, and planning a new interdisciplinary research center for UWM’s main campus.
Due to the highly collaborative nature of many research efforts, a rising profile for Milwaukee universities could have compounding affects, as Milwaukee researchers become more attractive partners for research efforts taking place at UW-Madison, at universities in Chicago, and beyond.
Of course, new research facilities and more research dollars will not automatically provide substantial benefits to the local economy. As we found in our report, Technology Transfer in Southeast Wisconsin, the ability of entrepreneurs to develop new businesses from university research, and the channels by which to do so, are the other crucial elements.
Joe Peterangelo