To remain competitive globally and business-viable domestically, companies throughout the United States are turning to research and development — the stimulation of intellectual property capabilities.

According to a story last month in Business Week, chief executive officers are asking “tough questions” about their R&D operations: “Why are so few hit products making it out of the labs into the market? How many of those pricey engineers are really creating game-changing products or technology breakthroughs?”

The Colorado Springs Manufacturing Task Force and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs are working to address those questions. Bringing academia and manufacturing companies together is one way to “spawn new intellectual property or product ideas that can be grown into new companies, with the attendant increase in employment, related manufacturing support requirements and community wealth,” said Dave Anderson, a member of the task force.

On April 6, UCCS and the manufacturing task force are launching what both hope is the first of an ongoing series of discussions between the business community and academic leaders.

“The primary objective of the meeting will be to identify capabilities that the university offers through the colleges of business and engineering and mechanisms through which relationship development can be explored,” Anderson said. “Having active relationships between manufacturing firms and the UCCS faculty, having university coordinated avenues through which to obtain technology and development resources and beginning to focus attention on the source of grant funding now coming into Colorado are tangible steps to improve the vitality of the Colorado Springs manufacturing community.”

Anderson corroborated with Dr. Venkat Reddy, dean of the UCCS College of Business, to bring the first round of open dialogue to fruition. Reddy said that developing ways to connect the university with the community adds value to everyone’s purpose.

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“The future of any organization – manufacturing, technology or the university – depends on intellectual capital,” Reddy said. “We have gone from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy and today it is the knowledge economy.”

Knowledge and creative thinking are ways the United States can stay competitive, Reddy said. “Anything that can be manufactured without innovation will leave. & We have to come up with innovation that would increase the demand for manufacturers here. There are efficiencies needed. We can decide we can’t do anything or we can be more innovative about the way we do things – enriching intellectual capital.”

Companies must enrich their bottom lines and longevity through innovation, and Reddy said the university can be a catalyst in brainstorming new ideas.

“What the faculty member gains through the process comes back to the classroom, developing future leaders while helping companies look at things differently,” he said. “We can’t afford to do business as usual. We have to focus on those mutually beneficial partnerships between the classroom and industry, planting little seeds that will grow into big plants and trees someday.”

Another organization sowing seeds along the Colorado/New Mexico border is the Rocky Mountain Technology Alliance, formed last year in the Springs.

Michael Semmens is the chairman of the alliance, which was established to promote the development of ideas for commercial application, help companies create new programs and assist entrepreneurs. Semmens also is participating in the April 6 meeting.

Conversation between business and higher education institutions is a plus to finding projects where there is room to develop advanced manufacturing concepts, where value and quality is premium, Semmens said. New technology has to be “driven by something other than commodity pricing on labor,” he said. “We have to look for opportunities where the paradigm shifts.”

The shift is away from labor intensive products. Developing intellectual property and advanced materials will “keep those jobs here if we bring along the educational institutions to develop the people who create those things,” Semmens said.

Developing the creators has to be a priority as well. While U.S. companies determine ways to remain competitive in the global market, the educational process has been exported to the United States for more than 30 years, Semmens said. “Eighty percent of the Ph.D students in the United States are foreign nationals,” he said. “We are competing for new technologies and new products.

“You have to be in the leading edge of production. & Take nanotechnology – who will be out front with finding the applications?”

Engineers need to be ready to switch gears a few times during their career span as well, Semmens said. “The folks may start off as an electrical engineer and end up in health care, or someone may start off in manufacturing and end up in software,” he said. “Who told a couple of bicycle repairmen they could be the first people to fly”?

The creative spirit of the Wright brothers is just what the manufacturing task force and UCCS hope to instill in others as part of their collaboration.

“This is just the beginning,” Reddy said. “We have a lot more to do in the future to build relationships. We are hoping to create a core group that would be of value for the whole city or state. I see a lot of good coming out of this meeting.”

– Marylou.doehrman@csbj.com