Changing role of Bob Meyer, Director of Stout Technology Transfer Institute and Special Assistant to the Chancellor, Federal and State Relations
[jazzy music intro]
Mell: Hello, welcome to another addition of About Stout. I am Doug Mell, director of communications at UW-Stout. Joining me today is Chancellor Charles Sorensen. A little later, we will be joined by Bob Meyer, a veteran Stout administrator who is taking over a new roll for the Chancellor. Today, we want to talk about an exciting new project the chancellor has taken on with some of his colleagues at other universities in Western Wisconsin. We’ll also talk about the recently completed strategic planning session and what that will mean for UW-Stout in the coming years. Welcome, Chancellor.
Sorensen: Good to be here.
Mell: You and some of your colleagues at UW-Eau Claire, UW-River Falls, and Chippewa Valley Technical College have put together a proposal that will impact, if it’s implemented, will impact economic development in Western Wisconsin. Could you briefly go through what you’re proposing?
Sorensen: Well, a bit of history… We have had, since 1988, a regional development group for the three-county area: Chippewa County, and Dunn County, and Eau Claire County. Our proposal is to expand that to about a nine-county area going as far as St. Croix along the I-94 corridor because we believe, fundamentally, two things. You must have regional cooperation to drive the economy and to make a healthy state. Secondly, you must have cooperation between the four schools in this region to make that happen.
Mell: Sure, sure. So, basically this would take momentum to change the Chippewa Valley from what it is now to a much larger organization.
Mell: As I understand it, the base of the organization also would change; the membership would also change, correct?
Sorensen: It would expand the membership so it would include different groups that hadn’t been in here. Primarily private businesses, philanthropic groups, labor, so we can expand the membership of that as well.
Mell: So we’re not creating a new organization.
Sorensen: It isn’t new. And you know, Doug, this was a gold standard back in 1988, 1990, 1995. And now we have other regions of the state doing exactly that: expanding regional cooperation.
Mell: We have New North. We have Milwaukee Seven. We have Centergy.
Sorensen: Exactly right. So we think this is fundamentally significant and important for the region and for the state, as a matter of fact.
Mell: Yeah. It seems, to me at least, very unusual to have the chancellors of UW-Stout, UW-River Falls, UW-Eau Claire, and the president of Chippewa Valley Technical College signing any major proposal. How did that all come about?
Sorensen: Well, first of all, I think we have fine leaders in River Falls, Eau Claire, and CVTC. We realize that higher ed, whether it is a tech-college system or our system, must be drivers for the economy, and we’ve been encouraged to cooperate. We’ve had… we’ve been doing this for quite a while, actually, in the region. And this is just another step forward, maybe a step up, from what we have done. We’re going to the four schools who have said we will commit 50,000 dollars between us, either in kind or cash, to launch this new organization—this expanded organization. So, I think the leadership of the four schools is fundamentally in agreement that this must happen and we want to be a driver for that.
Mell: I mean, the four leaders that you talked about, we’ve cooperated in such things as nano-right and nanotechnology. Most of it has been curriculum based. I mean, this is pretty much stepping outside of that. Why is economic… why should UW-Stout, UW-River Falls, UW-Eau Claire, CVTC get involved with this economic area? Why is economic development important to the universities and CVTC?
Sorensen: Well, indirectly, every university drives the economy. We want to drive it directly. Stout has, for a number of years—going back three decades probably—associated very closely with business and industry. We’ve had a phenomenal tech-transfer program here since about 1988.
Mell: And we’re going to be talking about that later.
Sorensen: …Talking to Bob Meyer in a few minutes. So, we’re used to this. We reach 200 companies every year to help them out. Secondly, it does, I think, under-gird the educational mission of who we are. We bring back to our classroom real live experiences from the private sector. So I think thirdly, we know that if we’re going to be supported by the state, and we have to be supported by the state, it has to be a healthy, vibrant economy to feed money back to us. So, those are the reasons why we really believe in this very, very strongly.
Mell: And you’ve, obviously, we’ve already started talking about this proposal to various members and it seems that the reaction has been pretty positive. It seems that the reaction has been, “This makes sense.”
Sorensen: Well, you know, Doug, if you talk to anyone knowledgeable about economic development, it has to be on a regional base, because we have to provide in a regional basis reasons why companies want to come here, expand here. They have to rely upon our students. They have to rely upon our faculty expertise in key areas. So I think that it means it goes beyond one county or two counties, to an entire region. That region is the I-94 corridor.
Mell: How important is it to bring that whole Pierce/St. Croix area into that, basically, the whole Chippewa Valley umbrella?
Sorensen: The spillover from Minnesota to Wisconsin is growing every day with new business developing. We have a technology park that was a hayfield in 1990, and now we have 22 or 24 buildings, 1200 employees, a huge payroll out there. So it is very significant to capture the interest in this growing region and to have high-tech companies with high paying jobs. You have to have schools that can support that, provide graduates for that, and provide resource services for the companies that come here.
Mell: The way I understand it is, one of the benefits of this proposal is that it would not create a new bureaucracy. You’re basically taking an existing organization, something that you said was, for years and years and years, the gold standard for regional development in Wisconsin, and just expanding that, and using that same model--just basically trying to reinvigorate it.
Sorensen: Right. We don’t want to reinvent the wheel. The organization is there. It’s been successful. It’s been known throughout the state. We simply want to expand it
Mell: What do you think the chances are for success?
Sorensen: I think that they’re good. I think that people will see that we’ve gotten good support from it. I think people will see that this makes sense to expand it. We have a phenomenally vibrant regional organization. So, I think we’ll see, in the next few weeks or next month or two the support and the acceptance of that.
Mell: And it has to be pretty powerful if a proposal is signed by the four educational leaders in western Wisconsin.
Sorensen: I think so because we play a major role no matter what we do. We’re still a major force here. If you look at the four schools, it’s like having a major university of 30,000 students, and, I don’t know, 4,000 faculty with phenomenal expertise. But we’re four separate schools, so we have to cooperate, but the force…
Mell: And the yearly economic impact is over a billion dollars.
Sorensen: Oh, it is. Exactly.
Mell: The other thing we wanted to talk about today is we just recently completed a two-day strategic planning session: our retreat. This is my first time through, and I found it fascinating, frankly. Could you tell us a bit about why that exercise is important? Why that effort is important?
Sorensen: Well, I think most people know we did receive the Baldrige award back in 2001. Part of that is planning. Part of that is to demonstrate to the Baldrige team that we are good planners. We can look at the future and be dynamic in doing that. We have a dynamic process. We engage the campus every fall in listening sessions so they tell us what they think the issues are. From that we establish priorities. We’re preparing now, though, for something a little different. We’re preparing now for the vision of Stout in 2015. So this particular planning session talked about three things: what’s next in IT, Information Technology—we had a consultant in who’s a CIO from Clemson who was at Purdue, one of the top 100 CIOs in the nation—we talked about enrollment management, and how to attract good students.
Mell: …Always an important topic here… everywhere.
Sorensen: …Significant, that’s right. Then we talked about the Polytechnic. What are the next steps to now flesh out the Polytechnic and enter that brand new arena of higher education. And this is preparation now, for next summer we’ll invite about 100 stakeholders to campus for a day-long visioning session, asking them “What have we done right? What should we change? What is the future of UW-Stout?”
Mell: And where we want to go through 2015.
Sorensen: That’s right, exactly.
Mell: So that’s a very, obviously, that’s very important, very important topic.
We spent two, half-day sessions, very dynamic, I think, very effective.
Mell: What did you bring out of them? What did you bring out of the sessions?
Sorensen: Well, one thing I brought out of the sessions on IT, for example, by Jim Bottom, the CIO from Clemson, we’re ahead of the curve. This campus, this mid-sized campus, in many ways leads the nation in terms of IT applications and administration, in the classroom, providing that IT to students to faculty and staff—campus-wide. That was brought out very clearly. I think, secondly, I think, a profound interest in maintaining and growing the enrollment: to attract the students that are attracted to applied learning philosophies, to attract students that want both careers and preparation for life. And the third thing is that the Polytechnic is accepted. I think we want to get excited about [the fact that] we have this new designation; we have a new set of peers. This will be a year we do a lot of branding, of marketing, visiting other Polytechnics like Cal-Poly at San Luis Obispo to flesh out what that really means and how to clearly state that to our stakeholders.
Mell: It seems we’re talking about enrollment. I mean, this is where we and economic development also dovetail because there’s no secret that Wisconsin needs more bachelor degrees. So if we’re going to be doing our job in that area, in that effort, we need to increase enrollment, and we have a planned increase in enrollment.
Sorensen: The challenge is that the 18-year-old population will drop off beginning in about two years. So the challenge is how to use your technology, for example. We’re doing a good job of this to reach out to non-traditional students—state-wide, nation-wide, worldwide, how to use the virtual university effectively at UW-Stout, and we’re doing a lot of that right now. And how to have stronger partnerships with the tech colleges to get those transfers into our programs. They produce very, very exceptional students. We want them to transfer here to finish their degrees in appropriate areas.
Mell: And we’re a natural place for them.
Sorensen: That’s right.
Mell: You brought up enrollment. How does enrollment look for ’07-’08?
Sorensen: Ah, very good. We set a target of 1,525 freshmen about three years ago and we will meet that target this fall. If we maintain that until 2010, we will be at about 8,500 students, headcount, and about 7500 students FTE. So it’s planned growth in a very controlled way, and that’s what we want to do: to attract the kind of student that wants to be here, that will be retained, that will graduate, and that can go out there and fill those needed jobs.
Mell: And in our next session of About Stout we’re going to talk about the upcoming year and all the exciting plans that we have for that and some other things. We’re going to take a break right now and when we come back, we’re going to be joined by Bob Meyer who has changed roles here at Stout.
Mell: Thanks for joining us, Bob. Let’s talk a little bit about your new role at UW-Stout. Why don’t you tell us what’s happened with your positions here.
Meyer: Well, I was Dean of the College of Technology and Management and as the Chancellor pointed out, the University has been very involved with technology transfer along the lines. That was something I was involved with in my role as dean—something that I really enjoy doing.
Mell: That was under your umbrella, so to speak.
Meyer: That was under the umbrella. Previously I worked with the Stout Tech Transfer Institute. In my new role, I’m actually kind of going back to that, but I’m also going to help with federal relations. Just a little background on technology transfer: it’s an important ingredient for the University of Wisconsin-Stout.
Mell: The Chancellor mentioned that, obviously. We spent the first half of the show on how important technology transfer is.
Meyer: He sees this and the University sees this as a pretty important ingredient to becoming a polytechnic. That’s why I think we can make the argument that we already are a polytechnic because we’re very successful with tech transfer. It’s an important component. Originally we started the program for exactly the same reasons…
Mell: What does technology transfer mean? I mean, I know you’ve kind of had your own definition.
Sorensen: Well, it means two things in my mind. One is the definition given by Madison to create start-up companies from ideas to product to company. That’s one form of technology transfer, and it’s a good one. Madison does a great job of that, UW-Madison. Our form is a little bit different. Well, we do some of that. We’ve had some success stories. Schmidt Prototypes is a good example of that. But what we do, and what Bob does so well, is to identify, through a structure that he has, issues in manufacturing companies in Wisconsin, and they go to us for the expertise to come in and fix that problem. It could be a floor layout for manufacturing, just-in-time inventory control, or whatever it might be. That’s our expertise, and that saves jobs and creates jobs.
Mell: Is one of your jobs, in your new role, basically to help the public understand a little bit more what technology transfer is all about and how UW-Stout fits into that?
Meyer: Yeah, and as the Chancellor mentioned there are a couple different definitions of that. One is, basically the way I look at it, to tap into the resources of the University for the purpose of growing the economy, which is exactly the line that is going out with the news release that’s going out today. We feel that what happens then is that the student-faculty teams that work on these projects and these problems provide a double benefit. First of all, the company gets increased sales, maybe lowers their cost. But then in the long-run, because we’re involving faculty and students, they can hire graduates that can hit the ground running. They know about the problems they’ll face in the real world. They have some experience with those, and it’s just a really good win-win solution. Last year, the year before last, two year ago that effort at UW-Stout generated 30 million dollars in client-reported impacts. These aren’t our numbers; these are our clients that report that.
Mell: That’s through the Northwest Wisconsin Manufacturing Outreach Center.
Meyer: That’s right. And the entire Stout Tech Transfer Institute. We’re generating a little more than 100 jobs a year, because of this—about 150 jobs a year. On average, the Chancellor mentioned, we work with about 200 companies. Our incubator has about a 70 percent plus graduation rate.
Mell: Which is high for incubators.
Meyer: Very high. It’s usually around 30 percent or lower. So it’s a very good system of startup and that’s also starting new employment and expanding employment. You mentioned Schmidt Prototype as an example, a very good example of a company that started with virtually nothing and grew into a company that employs a lot of people. And these are high-tech, high-paying jobs as well. This year we’ve had a banner year. We’ve gone from 30 million dollars to 90 million dollars. So in terms of…
Mell: That’s a big jump! [laughter]
Sorensen: Big jump.
Yeah, we’ve got some neat new products that we’re adding in related to marketing…
Mell: So you’ve got to go to 270 next year.
Meyer: That’s going to be... we’ve raised the bar pretty high. Hopefully we can hold that number, but that’s an exceptional year for us. Again, it has to do with helping businesses at a very strategic level. Not only have we been able to go help them on the shop floor, look at how the product flows through, how it’s manufactured and lean that up, but we also help the companies with strategic planning. We’ve hired a number of staff that have over a decade—in some cases, retirees with 30 years—of corporate experience at the management level. So it’s a very good organization top to bottom.
Mell: You’ve asked Bob to take on a new role in a new office. You want to explain a little bit about what you’ve asked him to do, and why?
Sorensen: I think in this day and age, to have a good margin of excellence, you have to have more dollars coming in from the outside. And one of Bob’s great strengths is to represent this school to the public, and corporations and to probably foundations in the future. And he’s going to work the delegation in Washington, DC to look at opportunities for federal grants for UW-Stout. He’s done a great job already doing that. He’s done a great job in Madison working the delegation explaining who we are to our legislative delegation down there. So, Bob’s going to do a lot more of that. About 25 percent of his time, maybe 30, will be that, reporting to me directly. And we expect that we’re going to see in an increase in federal support coming to Stout. We think we’ll see an increase in corporate support coming to Stout. This will be that margin you have to have. Every good Polytechnic has a very thriving extramural funding organization. But you know we’ve done pretty well. We’ve got a foundation that’s grown from 2 million dollars to 31 million dollars over 18 years. So, we have the basis for that, and Bob’s going to add to that.
Mell: How do you plan... I mean that’s obviously a pretty aggressive job charge. How do you plan to accomplish it?
Meyer: Well I’m pretty confidant about it, actually. A couple things are going on at the University are extremely exciting. One is that we are recognizing our selves a polytechnic. I think we can argue that we’ve been on that path for a long time and our Tech. Transfer program is a good example of that. To expand the impact and expand the dollars, what you need to do is add value to the economy, and that’s what the Chancellor is talking about. I think that the Stout Tech Transfer Institute has done that. I think there are a lot of things that we see out in the future that expand the number of things that we offer in Technology Transfer. We’ve got new programs coming on. You mentioned the nanotechnology initiative in the Chippewa Valley. That’s something we haven’t really parlayed yet with Tech. Transfer, and I think with the bright chemists and scientists that we have on staff that’s a huge opportunity where we can help fledging industries learn about nanotechnology and how to apply it to their products. That’s pretty exciting. We’ve got new programs in engineering: Electrical Engineering and Polymer Engineering. Those are two very prominent clusters in this are of the state.
Mell: Very important.
Meyer: So as we add staff, we’re adding capability. The reason that we’re successful with Technology Transfer is that we have a tremendous student body and faculty that is very well trained and is able to solve problems in industry. So as we grow that student body and the faculty’s capability, it naturally, I think will translate into expansion of the Tech. Transfer program.
Mell: It must have been hard for you to leave as Dean, though.
Meyer: It is difficult. I am very proud of the job that we did. I was dean for seven years. We went through a very structured strategic planning process for the college. We pretty much hit home runs on everything that we wanted to there: recruitment, in terms of the outreach, you mentioned doing the distance delivery, and looking at ways to reach place-bound students. We’ve accomplished a great deal. I’m very proud of that.
Mell: How do you think the college has changed over your tenure?
Meyer: I think we’ve become more sophisticated with the use of technology. It certainly has followed the infrastructure that the University has put in place. We have become a lot more electronic in the way we operate. Not only in terms of how we teach, but in terms of how we do business as well. The pace has quickened up.
Meyer: The amount of things we can do has just exploded phenomenally. The amount of growth is tremendous. For our college, I think we’re up over 500 students that we’ve added to the roster since I started as dean.
Mell: And as you said, a variety of new programs and other areas as well. Talk a little bit about how you go about selling UW-Stout to, let’s say, a federal delegation. You know, the local legislators know where we are; we’re keeping pretty close contact with them, but the federal delegation, they’re not so close to us. How do you go about selling UW-Stout to them?
Meyer: Well, to some degree, UW-Stout has already sold itself. Believe it or not, we have a very good reputation out there…
Mell: Oh, I believe it.
Meyer: …for a relatively small sized school. That’s because, usually, if someone in Congress makes an investment in UW-Stout, it has a big payoff. If you look at the 90 million dollars that we’re talking about for the Tech Transfer Program on federal return on investment, it’s over 200 to one. And there are very few programs that can claim that. I think on terms on reputation, it becomes easy. There’s a certain level of trust that if they make the investment in UW-Stout, it will pay off. We don’t go after things unless we’re pretty confident it’s going to add value to the economy. So those are the things we look at and we chase and we get a pretty good response on those things.
Mell: This is a pretty new area for the universities, though. Before we didn’t really have to… I mean we knew where our money was coming from and this is part of administration: looking at various new ways of funding for universities.
Sorensen: Well, since I’ve been here, this is my 20th year—starting my 20th year in only a few days—my job has changed from an internal chancellor to an external chancellor to lobby, to try to raise private dollars, to interact with corporations. That change is pretty fundamental; that’s true of all the jobs in the UW System. I want to get one link between what Bob talked about and going back to momentum. We’re doing right now what a regional group should be doing at Stout. And if you add River Falls—that’s 90 million dollars of impact on the economy—and if you add River Falls, and you add UW-Eau Claire—they have great science programs over there, and CVTC—great nanotech effort. Now you start to see why the regional, 9-county regional group makes a lot of sense. We’re doing a lot of what the other regional groups want to do right now and we just want to expand that with this new organization.
Mell: I don’t think anybody argues with the fact that we need a regional economic group. I think the issue is, “how do we go about doing it.” And this proposal is just not, as you said before, not to reinvent the wheel. Do you hear, when you go and talk to business leaders and people in the private sector, do they talk about the need for regional economic development efforts?
Meyer: You hear it, not only from business and industry, but you’re hearing it form the state government as well. They’re looking for some direction, and they’re looking for a regional plan, not pockets of localized planning; they’re looking for something that’s more comprehensive. I hear that quite a bit. You know, I think the Chancellor makes a good point. What we want to do is leverage the partnerships that exist. One of our centers at the Stout Tech Transfer Institute is a partnership of five technical colleges along with a university. That’s another reason why it’s very successful. I think this notion of expanding the charge of momentum for the Chippewa Valley makes a lot of sense. When you consider the effect the Twin Cities growth has on us in western Wisconsin, it’s very similar in what is experienced from Chicago to Milwaukee in that a lot of commerce is coming our way, and expanding our way.
Mell: And there’s no reason to believe that that growth is going to stop.
Mell: I mean, we’re the next county in.
Sorensen: That’s right.
Meyer: I mean, we’ve got Dunn County, Polk County, and Eau Claire County: three of the top ten growing counties in the state of Wisconsin. It’s already happening. It’s coming. So, I think that’s the other piece that makes it really exciting. The growth is going to be here, and we have the opportunity to shape that growth with the programs and the outreach services that we provide. That’s why it’s pretty exciting that momentum is looking at a new charge, and it’s also pretty exciting that Stout is looking at being a Polytech. because it really does allow us to focus on what we can add value to the economy with.
Mell: Well, thanks for joining us.
Meyer: My pleasure.
Mell: And you too, Chancellor. We appreciate it. Thanks for joining, and thank you for joining us today at About Stout. We’ll be back soon with another show.