Michigan State University, often called Michigan’s state university, has been advancing the common good with uncommon will for more than 165 years. Established in 1855, MSU is one of the nation’s premier land-grant universities, along with now being regarded as a top-rated research university.
Throughout MSU’s history, faculty, students, and community partners have worked with communities to co-create economic and community development initiatives. At least eight of MSU’s campus units are dedicated to engaging in significant economic development activities with external stakeholders across our region and the state. These partnerships are critical to helping reverse and overcome social and economic disparities that persist in our society.
In 2020, then-president of MSU, Samuel Stanley, commissioned a strategic plan reaffirming MSU’s commitment to making meaningful impacts in communities through engaged research, education, and innovation.
Building upon the tenets of the strategic plan and following the guidelines of the Commission on Economic and Community Engagement (CECE), our Innovative and Economic Prosperity (IEP) team used the self-study process as a mechanism for capturing economic development activities occurring across campus. This process provided the opportunity to better understand how both internal and external stakeholders perceive our diverse efforts surrounding economic growth in our region and state.
Arnold Weinfeld, director for workforce and economic development partnerships in the Office for Public Engagement and Scholarship, and Charles Hasemann, associate vice president for innovation and economic development at the MSU Innovation Center, were named co-leads, representing the three aspects of TIP: Talent, innovation, and place.
We began the IEP designation process in late 2019 by organizing an advisory committee and three work groups. Shortly thereafter, the COVID-19 pandemic closed campus, leading the IEP committee to temporarily pause our efforts. In late spring of 2020, work groups reconvened. They identified key on-and-off campus stakeholders from whom to get input, coordinated with ongoing campus self-assessment and planning efforts, and directly engaged with local, regional, and statewide partners.
Ultimately, we conducted discussion groups and follow-up conversations with nearly 100 regional economic development leaders across the state, local leaders, community organizations, and corporate and industry partners. The discussion groups followed the SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results) analysis template. The stakeholders’ comments were consistent across conversations. MSU received high marks for its work, but the size of the university makes it difficult for external groups to know whom to contact on a consistent basis. External stakeholders located closer to campus found this less of an issue due to the strategic position of a vice president for community and external affairs in the Office of Governmental Relations who is responsible for connecting with and facilitating opportunities for businesses, nonprofits, and government entities within the tri-county region.
Internally, a survey was sent to 4,634 MSU faculty, staff, and administrators. The team received 358 surveys from respondents who identified themselves as doing some form of economic development activity.
The self-study identified three areas of clear accomplishment based on an internal review and analysis of MSU’s economic engagement activities conducted with outside stakeholder input:
While MSU has a considerable collection of strengths and accomplishments, we recognize the opportunity to build on our assets to become stronger in three areas outlined by the self-study:
Recognizing areas of accomplishment, as well as areas of improvement, has allowed us to identify successes to build on, challenges to overcome, and opportunities to consider.
Overall, the IEP designation process has provided valuable feedback to help us build connections and work collaboratively to advance economic development and innovation for all communities in Michigan.
The insight gained underscores the role of the university as an engine for economic prosperity, fueled by a culture, structures, and processes that support, strengthen, and reward economic engagement.
In partnership with communities and stakeholders across the state, we look forward to creating solutions to help make Michigan a place of opportunity, economic growth, and innovation.