By Katy Brooks, CEO, Bend Chamber
This article originally appeared in The Bulletin on January 23, 2022
Something really exciting is coming to Oregon State University-Cascades. It is their new innovation district, a public/private development that will be a game changer for Bend and Central Oregon.
The district will create a dynamic community of research, activities, housing and public space that will serve students, businesses and the community.
The district is designed for 500,000 square feet of technically wired, mixed-use office, retail and housing, as well as outdoor gathering and event space. It will support opportunities to invent and bring research, ideas and products to market in bioscience, biotech, sports performance, health, outdoor products, energy engineering, applied and software engineering, sustainable tourism, the arts, and natural resources — all areas in which OSU-Cascades and regional industries have expertise. It will also be an opportunity for students to work with local enterprises, applying classroom theories to real world problems.
Planned for development on eight acres in the northeast corner of OSU Cascades campus property, the project is slated to be the first on-campus university innovation district in Oregon. It will create a vibrant community where students, faculty and businesses not only share ideas and research, but can also enjoy food, activities and housing. But to bring it to its fullest potential OSU-Cascades needs input, support and partners from within the region’s leadership and business community.
The first opportunity for real estate developers, local businesses and prospective tenants to learn about the innovation district co-location and collaboration is at a market sounding at OSU-Cascades from 1 to 4 p.m. on Feb. 4. Attendees will hear about the scope of the project, co-development and collaboration priorities, and the support already underway. Later in February a similar market sounding will take place to explore public benefit opportunities where nonprofit and cultural organizations can submit ideas for arts and enrichment.
There are multiple reasons to be excited about an innovation district at OSU Cascades. One is that students will benefit from a learning experience that will make them more ready to hit the workforce running. According to the State of Oregon, we entered this decade with a declared need of 300,000 additional postsecondary credentials to prepare adult workers for a future of increasingly complex work. The innovation district will leverage the university’s student body and research with industries who are looking to fill that growing labor gap.
University innovation districts also provide significant benefit to private sector companies looking for advances, growth and collaborative research. These districts create unique synergies from being located at a university with access to researchers, faculty experts and student interns. This is where the capacity to accelerate ideas happens in a way that a university or company cannot achieve alone.
And building on the university’s service to our region’s diverse communities is also a benefit. The Brookings Institute recently wrote that innovation districts can play a critical role in inclusivity and bridging economic and social divides. OSU-Cascades already serves a previously underserved Central Oregon population, with about a third of their students being Pell Grant eligible. The new innovation district will increase accessibility to jobs, housing and a vibrant campus that creates opportunities for OSU-Cascades’ wide variety of students. Add to that the advantage of developing the district into a vibrant space that will be accessible to the whole community.
The Brookings Institute has also shown that innovation districts are “the very link between economy shaping, place making and social networking”. These collaborative spaces are how businesses and entrepreneurs are starting and growing their companies.
There are plenty of examples of districts around the country that we can learn from. One well-known example is Research Triangle Park at Duke University. It started from humble roots and now boasts more than 55,000 employees and 300 companies.
Innovation districts also reimagine and vitalize the economy. They can grow jobs that align with Central Oregon’s growing diversity of industries, empower entrepreneurs, expand transit and accessibility and raise revenues to further expand the campus and grow new companies.
OSU-Cascades’ innovation district will include more than co-located labs. It will be a place of collaboration and invention. It will also be a place for the community to interact with the campus. And it will be brought about by bringing public and private investment to land that will be transformed from a former quarry and landfill to a new, vital and important place to learn, invent, connect and live.
To register for the market soundings or learn more, visit contact osucascades.edu/innovation-district.