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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Aug. 28, 2023) — In recognition of its strong commitment to economic engagement, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU), one of the nation’s top higher education associations, has designated the University of Kentucky as an Innovation & Economic Prosperity (IEP) University.

The national designation acknowledges public research universities working with public and private sector partners in their states and regions to support economic development through a variety of activities, including innovation and entrepreneurship, technology transfer, talent and workforce development and community development.

UK received the designation after an independent panel reviewed the institution’s application, including an internal review and analysis of economic engagement activities conducted with outside stakeholder input.

“There are so many facets of the University of Kentucky dedicated to the economic development of Kentucky,” said UK Economic Development Collaborative Chair George Ward. “This designation affirms our diverse efforts. It gives us inspiration and motivation to keep moving forward with our land-grant, flagship university mission of fostering innovation and driving economic growth for Kentucky.”

Applications for the designation are evaluated by a panel of reviewers representing other universities and regional and national partners. Scoring was based on a range of criteria emphasizing universities’ development of their economic engagement enterprise, their planning efforts around economic engagement, strategic communications around these efforts, and participation in encouraging economic engagement among peer institutions.

APLU’s Commission on Economic and Community Engagement, which manages the designation process, is a national leader in efforts to help public research universities plan, assess and communicate their work in regional, national and global economic development and community engagement.

As part of the self-study conducted with external stakeholders that was central to the designation application process, UK identified three areas of institutional strength in economic engagement.

These three areas include:

  1. The formation of UK’s Economic Development Collaborative

    UK’s Economic Development Collaborative (EDC) was launched in 2019 and serves as a network of campus and community stakeholders who oversee UK’s economic development and business engagement activities. The mission of the EDC is to proactively grow economic prosperity in the Commonwealth in the areas of talent, innovation, place, partnership and equitable economic development.

    As part of its 2021 strategic plan, the EDC proposed a series of “Bold Ideas” and objectives to achieve its mission, which include the development of the UK Innovation District, multidisciplinary institutes and an equity map of Central Kentucky that focuses on equitable economic development. It also includes providing staffing and resources for UK’s Office for Business Engagement, the university’s gateway for businesses and organizations interested in collaborating with UK.

  2. Growing innovation, entrepreneurship and research through UK Innovate

    Launched in 2021, UK Innovate helps UK and its partners move ideas into the world faster, where they can make the greatest social and economic impacts possible. This is achieved through technology commercialization, corporate partnerships, social innovation, innovation training and economic development initiatives related to UK’s research innovations, talent and community.

    One of the major programs within UK Innovate is the Office of Technology Commercialization (OTC) which supports innovators in strategically assessing, protecting and licensing early-stage technologies, and helps to cultivate entrepreneurship and new technology startups. Some of the programs housed in the OTC include a fellowship program offering experiential learning and work opportunities to qualified UK graduate and undergraduate students and postdocs and Scholars@UK, a publicly available database of research expertise across UK aimed at promoting internal and external collaborations. OTC also hosts “Patent Palooza!” — an annual event that celebrates UK’s innovation community. UK Innovate and OTC are also home to Launch Blue, a program that nurtures promising startup founders and innovators through intensive accelerator programs.

  3. Intentional development and use of real estate and physical structures

    Through building out a continuum of spaces needed for economic growth, multiple physical structures on campus, along with thoughtful programming, are helping to promote an agile research and creativity ecosystem. Recent projects include developments at the Coldstream Research Campus, such as the new CoRE building, the FIFTEN51 residential village and the new Kinetic by Windstream regional headquarters.

    This also includes the expansion of UK HealthCare, which has continued to grow and provide care at increasing rates to the communities it serves. 

Officials also identified areas for growth and improvement for the university’s economic engagement enterprise and developed an improvement plan. This work demonstrated a commitment to continuous learning and improvement in this kind of engagement vital to universities and their regional partners. These areas include:

  1. Elevating the overall stature of business engagement at UK to enhance accessibility to the university and integrate workforce development in curricular and co-curricular activities.
  2. Improving both internal and external communication of the EDC’s work to highlight how UK has contributed to economic engagement in the Commonwealth.
  3. Expanding UK’s reach in multiple disciplines to every county in Kentucky by following the extension service model led by the UK Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment and by expanding programming on UK Online.

“Economic development is a major pillar of universities’ work,” said APLU President Mark Becker. “From talent development to pathbreaking research to entrepreneurship and beyond, institutions have a central role to play in economic development. We’re pleased to recognize UK for its commitment to engaging its community around these issues to advance regional economic development.”

Institutions that have received the IEP designation have reported significant advancement of their efforts due to the stakeholder engagement and self-study efforts undertaken in conjunction with the program. They are leveraging their status as Innovation and Economic Prosperity universities to identify new areas of opportunity in aligning with economic development objectives.

The APLU will formally recognize and celebrate UK and other IEP-designated universities at its annual meeting Nov. 12-14 in Seattle, Washington.

To learn more about APLU’s Innovation & Economic Prosperity Universities, visit the website.