By Lyle Moran
LOWELL -- UMass President Robert Caret summed up his tour yesterday of UMass Lowell's Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center with one word: "Impressive."
The president, who took office July 1, said the amenities the $70 million North Campus facility features are eye-catching.
But Caret said he is just as excited about the interaction that will take place between university professors, students and the business community once the center opens.
Support from the business community through public-private partnerships, which has been central to Lowell's renaissance, is necessary to help the UMass system improve in a climate where state funding for higher education is on the decline, he said.
"The university has to be in the community and let them join the effort," Caret said in an interview with The Sun during his Lowell stop on a four-day, 24-event statewide bus tour. "If you develop personal relationships, everything will flow from that."
Caret launched the 400-mile tour to seek suggestions on how to improve the UMass system and to talk about what the university already has to offer.
After his tour of the technologies facility, Caret met with local business leaders who work closely with UMass Lowell.
Financial support from businesses for the UMass system would be appreciated, but Caret told the business leaders he could also use their political support.
"We need businesses to put pressure on the elected officials and let them know how important higher education is to the future of the country," he said.
Due to dwindling state support of higher education, state universities have been forced to run more like private institutions and raise the price of access.
If state support continues to lag, UMass will have to increasingly admit out-of-state students and international students -- who pay higher tuition rates -- at the expense of in-state students, said Caret.
The five-campus system serves nearly 70,000 students a year.
In addition to seeking increased support from the business community, Caret also pledged to launch a marketing campaign to promote the affordable, high-quality education UMass offers.
The system suffers from what he called "Rodney Dangerfield syndrome," which he defined as a lack of respect.
"From respect, we can get the resources and understanding we need," he said.
UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan said he is thrilled about Caret's desire to see the different campuses actively engage with their communities, especially local business leaders. The Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center is a great example of UMass Lowell's focus on economic development, said Meehan.
"He now should have a sense of the economic impact the Emerging Technologies and Innovation Center will have in this region and beyond in the next 50 years," he said.
Triton Systems, a Chelmsford-based company that works on advanced materials and nanotechnology, is one company with close ties to the university. The company's chief technology officer, Ken Mahmud, said the company's work with UMass Lowell on a number of different projects has been beneficial and should continue to be.
"This center will only enhance our ability to work with the university," Mahmud said.
Caret was also scheduled to meet with students late yesterday afternoon and met earlier in the day with members of the Lowell Plan, Greater Lowell Chamber of Commerce and the Merrimack Valley Convention & Visitors Bureau.