Joe King, Office of Public Affairs
February 27, 2003
DEKALB - Northern Illinois University is a key player in two projects that hold promise for transforming the economic landscape of north-central Illinois.
Both projects – one in Rockford focusing on reviving manufacturing industries there, the other in Belvidere seeking to develop and market new agricultural-based products – will rely heavily upon resources and innovative thinkers from NIU.
“We are extremely proud to be involved in both of these projects,” said NIU President John Peters. “They will provide terrific outlets for our skilled researchers and fantastic learning opportunities for our students. These projects will redefine how our region will be perceived for years to come, and we are excited to be a part of that.”
The larger of the two projects, the Rockford Regional Manufacturing Technology Research and Development Center, is still in the proposal phase, but has the support of U.S. Rep. Don Manzullo. He is working to get $13 million in federal funding, while Rockford Mayor Doug Scott is working to get state money to support the project.
Should that funding be secured, Northern will be the lead agency responsible for the implementation and supervision of the center. University scientists and manufacturing engineers will there creating ideas and innovations that will become the driving forces behind the manufacture and sale of new products. They will focus on cutting edge ventures dealing with projects that could range from nanotechnology (building electronic circuits and devices from single atoms and molecules) to the design and manufacture of entire vehicles.
Other educational institutions involved in the project include Northwestern, the University of Illinois and Rock Valley College. Students from all of those schools would have opportunities to gain real-world experience working on science and technology projects. Faculty from those schools would also have opportunities to engage in cutting-edge research.
It is the unique collaboration between the various schools and industry that hold the promise of success for the project, said Promod Vohra, associate dean of the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.
“We are excited to lead this project, but pulling together the expertise of all the universities involved, as well as the Rockford manufacturing community, is essential to its success,” Vohra said.
If approved, the center will be located in Rockford, but no location has been selected.
Northern is also one of the key players in the creation of a new agricultural-technology park intended to breathe life into the economy of Boone County. Rep. Manzullo announced that $500,000 in funding for the facility had been approved in the most recent spending package approved by Congress. It will be located just south of I-90 near the Belvidere exit ramp,
The Belvidere-Boone County New Uses Agriculture-Technology Incubator and New Use Economy Information Center will study and bring to market new uses for agricultural products, focusing on non-food related products, along the same lines as a new auto undercoating, created by Daimler/Chrysler, which uses flax fiber and seed.
The ag-tech park will provide opportunities for faculty and students in the NIU College of Business who will work with start-up companies developing business and marketing plans, conducting market research or assisting with information technology issues.
“This project offers business students rare and exciting opportunities to see what it takes to shepherd a product from idea to marketplace,” NIU President Peters said. “This is a terrific marriage of the traditional strengths of our region: the bounty of the farmland, the ingenuity of our industries and the knowledge base of a world-class university.”
The project also allows the university to perform a unique service to the region, points out David Graf, dean of the NIU College of Business.
“This is an unusual relationship for the College of Business,” Graf said. “It is more of an economic development project, helping start-ups move in and creating jobs in this area, and that is really important.”