Taking a page from Purdue University's playbook, Indiana University has quietly put its economic-development efforts under review, laying the groundwork for a reorganization intended to give them more punch.
"IU is a very complex institution, with regional campuses, a major research institution located in Indianapolis, an urban medical center and a major research center in Bloomington," said Stephen Ferguson, president of the IU trustees. "When you look at the total impact of all the schools and ways they interact, it doesn't have maybe the focus that we sometimes need to have."
IU hired Chicago-based Huron Consulting Group this month to examine its process of economic development and evaluate whether it matches Gov. Mitch Daniels' business-first agenda. Huron's $100,000 study encompasses everything from IU's method for transferring technology to the private sector to its procedures for public relations.
In recent years, IU's economic development efforts have yielded improved results (see graphic), but they haven't received as much acclaim as Purdue's.
IU President Adam Herbert said via e-mail that the Huron study is the next step in a review the trustees began in January. In May, Huron delivered a report that analyzed IU's research capabilities.
John Curry, managing director in Huron's education and health care practice, said the study will compare IU against university leaders in economic development, such as Georgia Tech, the University of North Carolina and Purdue. Huron will identify their "best practices," which could then be applied at IU.
"The ultimate goal is how best to orchestrate and coordinate the several areas which have different aspects of economic development to create more focus, clarity and, to use a crude word, more firepower," Curry said.
Over time, the roles of many parts of IU in economic development have evolved, from the business school to the medical school to the school of dentistry. They all report to Herbert, but IU's organization has traditionally been decentralized across its eight campuses.
"This study is not focusing on economic development initiatives in the sense of re-evaluating our current priorities of life sciences and information technology. Those are very clear," Herbert said in his e-mail response to IBJ's question.
"Nor is it a review of any single unit or initiative. Rather, it is a high-level review of how various IU units are working together in support of our common objective and how we can more effectively utilize institutional resources in pursuit of our economic development priorities."
That sounds a lot like statements business leaders have come to associate with West Lafayette since Purdue hired Martin Jischke as president six years ago.
Don Gentry, special assistant to the Purdue provost, said the university always has had an enormous impact on the state's companies and economy. But under Jischke, Purdue's business mission was focused and coordinated.
Jischke hand-picked Gentry to unify Purdue's economic development activities on campus, ratchet up its efforts to serve the state, and maximize public visibility of the efforts.
"We weren't doing a bad job. We have served the state for 130 years. But we're a pretty big place for people to try to contact and get help," Gentry said. "That was the thing we were trying to do: to get everybody on the same page of reaching out and helping communities, business and local industry."
Purdue markets itself with its "Go Businessmakers!" slogan. And its high-profile push has yielded concrete results. Purdue now has more than 65 companies in its business park, Gentry said, about half of which came from Purdue lab discoveries. The university also increased sponsored research and other services for corporations.
The result: Purdue has an attractive tale to tell when it approaches donors. The economic development yarn helped Purdue earn the fruits of a six-year, $1.5 billion capital campaign.
"The bottom line on this: We have probably exceeded what any of us expected could happen in six years," Gentry said. "The big thing is the feeling people around the state have toward Purdue University, that Purdue is really willing to help them.
"I would imagine IU is looking at this because of the success Purdue has had," Gentry added. "[Increased] visibility, having a focus and goal in mind has brought tremendous support from alumni and corporations to Purdue."
It's not as though IU has been slouching. From 1997 to 2004, it raised more than $1 billion for its Indianapolis campus. Since then, its fund raising has continued. The school is in the quiet phase of an unfinished Bloomington capital campaign.
Meanwhile, IU's Research and Technology Corp. regularly spins out startup companies based on the school's laboratory discoveries. But IU hasn't earned nearly the recognition for its toils that Purdue has.
"People know something is going on, but they don't quite have their arms around that something. They don't understand the magnitude of the changes or the results that have occurred," said Mark Long, CEO of IURTC. "They know there's been some change, but they couldn't explain it to you."
Making that case will be one of the foremost responsibilities of IU's next president. Herbert is scheduled to step down in July 2008. He might leave sooner; IU's trustees have already formed a search committee to find his replacement.
"You'll see a lot of changes being made in the university over the next 12 months," said Ferguson, chairman of Bloomington-based medical-device maker Cook Group Inc. "We're looking to the new president to come in and take us to the next level."
The "next level" concept was the cornerstone of the strategy Purdue hired Jischke to execute. Now IU is duplicating the process for Herbert's successor.
Last week, IBJ reported IU's intention to approach the General Assembly for $80 million in 2007. The money would fund the hiring of 100 new research faculty at the IU School of Medicine and would be the first step in a 12-year biotech innovation push.
The medical school effort is just one part of IU's broader plan to sharpen its economic development focus, Ferguson said.
To carry out that mission, IU's next president must approach legislators and wealthy alumni for cash and demonstrate exactly what their contributions will accomplish.
But before IU can ask for more money, it has to make the most of what it already has. Then it must show exactly what kind of bang IU gets for its buck.
"There are several pieces of the organization that envelop economic development of the university and the state itself. My hunch is each of those have come along to handle a particular piece of the activity," Curry said. "Now the question is how to make the whole better than the sum of its parts."
By developing its plans long before Herbert steps down–just as Purdue's trustees did before they hired Jischke–IU may soon vie for the businessmakers title.
"This isn't the beginning. This is another step in an ongoing process that's been going on for several years," Furgeson said. "The board and the president are both determined that this is not a lame-duck period. We don't want this to be a period of pause."