University public-private research parks have been proliferating rapidly in the last couple of decades. Eight UNC campuses already have one, and another was recently approved for East Carolina University. The theory goes that they will spur economic growth through greater collaboration and Knowledge transference between higher education and the private sector. Supposedly, venture capitalists will show up toting bags of money, professors will turn their ideas into profitable start-ups, and for-profit firms will hire lots of students.
But it’s starting to look like somebody left a few variables out of that equation. Jesse Saffron exposes how such research parks don’t always pan out, and how the presence of shiny new buildings is not the same thing as real economic development. ECU’s looks especially unpromising, given that the Greenville area offers little to prospective employers and employees. Chances are, it will be the academic version of Global Transpark, occasionally described as a publicly funded “money pit.”
What these parks really look like is a desperate last gasp of the central planning mindset. These parks are not quite central planning, in the strict sense. But they’re still based on the belief that politicians can create prosperity by spending money from the public coffers. And despite all the hype, they really come down to little more than in increase in commercial real estate, whether the local market needs it or not.