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UCI Research Park a Study in Promise

The University of California, Irvine, by opening research partnerships with companies leasing space on its campus, is acting on new ideas that will help Southern California’s economy and university and industrial research nationwide.

Cisco Systems soon will relocate a division to the UCI Research Park, where it will join research facilities of America Online, Canon and 10 smaller companies.

The research park, in one dimension, represents a unique collaboration of real estate development, industrial growth and academic inquiry and instruction. The park sits on 85 acres leased by UCI to Irvine Co., the property development company that donated the land to create UCI.

Irvine Co. leases office and laboratory space in the park to firms that promise to participate in research projects with UCI and to give internships to students. UCI deans have veto power over which companies get to rent space in the park.

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But in another sense, UCI’s collaborations with private industry are the newest level of joint research between corporations and centers of higher learning and for university-sponsored aid for start-up companies.

The trend is particularly strong in Southern California. Caltech, under its new president, David Baltimore, is developing a biochemistry center to encourage graduates to start companies adjacent to the Pasadena campus, with mutual monetary and research benefits to Caltech and to the entrepreneurs.

Claremont Graduate University has just launched a new School of Information Science that will have affiliations with industry and could enter research partnerships “if the right partners come along,” says Steadman Upham, president of the Claremont graduate school.

Words such as “collaboration” and “partnership” sound good, but what do hard-pressed companies really get out of such arrangements? Access to brainpower in many forms.

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“Selfishly speaking, it’s very hard to find technical people these days. Locating near UCI is good for recruiting,” says Steven Keefer, president of Monitoring Automation Systems, an 80-person company that develops software for residential alarms and security systems.

Keefer also hopes to participate in research UCI’s Department of Information and Computer Science is doing on global positioning satellites and personal security devices.

Cisco’s systems division, which works with cable and telephone companies that are developing Internet communications, will move 200 people into Research Park quarters now being built, says Hoss Christensen, head of the division. “We’ll be able to contract with students, and we look forward to cooperative ventures with UCI,” Christensen says.

ATL Products, a developer of large data storage systems, benefits from the research UCI can afford to do on electronic commerce, says Kevin Daly, ATL chairman.

University priorities do not change, says UCI Chancellor Ralph Cicerone. “If companies find that university research aligns with their long-term interests, they can choose to participate. But neither side is forced,” he says.

UCI demonstrates how valuable universities are to the modern economy. The school, which opened its doors only 34 years ago for the fall semester of 1965, was created under a master plan for developing the Irvine Ranch.

That plan, which was drawn up by Los Angeles architect William Pereira, saw the university at the center of a residential, commercial and industrial community. Irvine Co. gave 1,000 acres to the UC system in 1960 to create UCI. It was a singular insight for its time.

“Pereira in 1960 envisioned Irvine developing with clean industry, not with smokestack industry or with Fortune 500 companies,” says Donald Bren, chairman of Irvine Co., who through his foundation has become the largest single benefactor of the University of California system.

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The fulfillment of Pereira’s insight is most evident today in the Irvine Spectrum, the office and commercial development that is home to 2,500 companies with 50,000 employees. The companies largely are in information and biomedical industries, and most are relatively small. “They average 20 employees a company,” says Richard Sim, head of investment properties for Irvine Co. But “without UCI, we’d probably have only 500 companies,” Sim adds.

The research park idea has evolved since 1988, inspired partly by Stanford University’s role in the creation of Silicon Valley. Orange County has ambitions to take over the role of California’s technology center. But there are also larger trends at work, of industrial research and university budgets in the post-Cold War period. For half a century, basic U.S. research, through contracts to companies or grants to universities, was funded by the Defense Department. Government grants are still important, but the totals are no longer growing.

Companies, too, are under pressure in the global economy and no longer undertaking basic research, notes UCI’s Cicerone, a nationally renowned environmental scientist.

So the responsibilities fall to “universities in cooperative ventures with industry,” says Cicerone, whose university has the largest computer science department in the UC system and is developing a school of biomedical engineering.

In a way, university-industry collaborations are throwbacks to an earlier time. Before World War II, DuPont, Eastman Kodak and other firms funded university chemistry departments in hopes of educating chemical engineers and spurring chemistry research.

What is new today: the subjects, the biological and information sciences, and the locations. Leading edge inquiry and education in those subjects are centered more than ever in universities of Southern California, from Santa Barbara to San Diego and points between. That holds major promise for the region’s economic future.

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Information in the Park

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UCI Research Park, open roughly two years, now numbers these 12 companies as tenants and research partners:

* America Online

* ATL Products

* Canon Information Systems

* Cisco Systems

* Cotelligent

* Danka Office Imaging

* Diamond Link

* HNC Insurance Solutions

* Monitoring Automation Systems

* ProIV Software

* Shopping.com

* Zenographics

Source: Irvine Co.


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