June 26, 2012

'Innovation' gets a campus


Since 93 percent of Nebraska’s land is in production agriculture and more than 30 percent of the state’s jobs are related to agriculture, it makes sense that the focus of Innovation Campus will often tie back to Nebraska’s rural roots.

Groundbreaking for phase one of the University of Nebraska’s Innovation Campus is set for August in Lincoln, at the former state fairgrounds. The key focus areas of this multi-faceted campus are food, fuel and water – areas that are in many ways of significant interest to Nebraska’s rural communities and farmers.

“Every farmer is involved in food production, and a large number of Nebraska farmers utilize water for irrigation, which is unique in the Midwest,” said Alan Tiemann, a farmer from Seward who is chairman of the Nebraska Corn Board. “Add in biofuels like corn- based ethanol and the potential for new biofuels and biochemicals from ag products and it becomes clear Innovation Campus has tremendous potential for farmers and rural communities.”

Dan Duncan, executive director of Innovation Campus, said the food, fuel and water areas of focus are broad enough to include many areas within the university’s expertise and fit perfectly with the state as a whole.

“Innovation Campus was planned to capitalize on Nebraska’s strengths and uniquely position the university and Nebraska as a whole when it comes to research and technology,” Duncan said. “Yet Innovation Campus is not just a place; it’s a state of mind. It’s an interface between the university and private business no matter where that business is located.”

Once a new technology or innovation is created in Nebraska, it gives the state an advantage of being the first to deploy and to market. Duncan explained the development of a pilot project or proof of concept may happen on Innovation Campus, but deployment could be anywhere and “we’re hoping that would be here in Nebraska.”

Tiemann said some of the projects coming from Innovation Campus could make a difference in how farmers grow crops and what those crops are used for. “The potential is wide open,” he said, “all it takes is an idea and we could see new fiber and biofuel projects being built in rural Nebraska or food production facilities, ideas that are created and driven by small businesses throughout the state.”

Phase one of the 232-acre Innovation Campus includes four buildings, including the former 4-H building and Industrial Arts building on the former state fairgrounds. In total, this phase includes around 300,000 sq. ft. plus infrastructure and pad ready sites. Facilities in phase one will begin to be occupied in late 2013.

Innovation Campus phase one, to be built on the former state fairgrounds,
includes (from left to right) the Industrial Arts building with rooftop greenhouses,
a new life science building that includes wet labs and the former 4-H building, which is
connected to a new companion building.

Note: This article originally appeared in the Spring/Summer 2012 CornsTALK (.pdf).

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