By From the Lowell Sun
By David Eiranova, Sun Correspondent
LOWELL -- At UMass Lowell, it's all about building.
Building new facilities. Building new collaborations with community colleges and local businesses. All of it is essential to the university spearheading economic development in the region.
That was UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan's message as he shared his vision with the Merrimack Valley Economic Development Council yesterday.
"I feel strongly that the university, with the community colleges, in a big way will determine the future of this region," Meehan told council members and local officials at a luncheon at the Wannalancit Mill.
Last year alone, he said, more than $500 million in economic activity in Greater Lowell was tied to UMass Lowell in 2006. "The university is the heart of the economic engine that drives this region," he said.
The former congressman pointed out that UMass Lowell has not built a new academic building in more than 30 years.
"You can't be at the cutting edge and playing a leadership role in economic development in this state without new facilities," said Meehan, as he presented a long-range plan to better "link" the four-section campus by adding two new academic buildings as well as a new dormitory. One idea Meehan may pursue involves the creation of an academic building that would serve both business and engineering students.
Meehan said, another key will be developing the entrepreneurial facets available to UMass Lowell, such as the proposed $80 million Emerging Technologies Building and the Nanomanufacturing Center of Excellence.
"One of the things we're going to do at the university is be entrepreneurial about everything we do," he said. "Thirty-seven percent of our revenue comes from the state. We have to increase federal grants, we have to increase foundation money, we have to increase private fundraising, and we have to increase revenue wherever we can."
Meehan also said new dormitories are an "important part of our strategy to broaden enrollment," adding that just 25 percent of UMass Lowell's 12,000 or so students live on campus. He said he is looking at the possibility of converting some buildings on the East Campus for use as dorms, citing university studies that have found that section is most popular with students.
Situating more students there would put them in close proximity to the vibrant arts community in downtown Lowell, thus bringing economic stimulus to that part of the city, he said.
Mayor Bill Martin expressed encouragement about Meehan's plans to further integrate the university with the city and region.
"One of the things that makes Lowell unique is to have this type of university here," Martin said in his opening remarks. "It's one of the few midsized cities, I think, where you can go from pre-kindergarten to Ph.D."
Meehan said another way to foster the university's excellence is to establish collaborations with the region's community colleges. He said Middlesex Community College, with campuses in Bedford and Lowell, is one of the best examples of a community college that collaborates effectively with industry.
Sun Chairman Kendall Wallace, co-chairman of the economic development council, said no one understands the Merrimack Valley region better than Meehan, who served the region as congressman from 1993 until stepping down this summer to take the chancellor's job.
"He clearly understands that if this region is to prosper economically, we need to work together for the common good," Wallace said.
The council is a private, nonprofit organization created in 1999 to promote the interests of the Merrimack Valley.