Sep 24, 2014

College towns like Madison score big on talent & innovation

Excerpted from

By Bill McMeekin

Within a short span in late summer, Madison, WI, picked up accolades in two national rankings of livability. In August, Madison turned up at the top of NerdWallet’s Best Cities for Quality of Life, in which it was praised for offering “a great work-life balance, high affordability and health insurance coverage rates, and a low unemployment.”

Just a couple weeks later, named Madison No. 1 on its Top 100 Best Places to Live. As editor Matt Carmichael notes, Madison has some built-in attributes that contribute both to its diverse economy and its high quality of life:

“The city is home to the University of Wisconsin and is also the state capital. Those facts alone help it immensely. Major institutions like that can lead to greater stability for its population and economy, and often help a small to mid-sized city outperform some of its larger counterparts. They bring in talent, research investment, jobs and a fresh influx of new residents.”

Large Universities: Talent Magnets and Entrepreneur Makers
Large universities do more than just turn out graduates to stoke the worker pipeline for employers. They are also magnets for drawing talent and breeder reactors for creating new businesses.

In the Madison Region, the University of Wisconsin’s main campus is populated at any given time by more than 48,000 students from 130 countries, helping to create a diverse and cosmopolitan community that has won recognition as a top foodie city and a top music destination and supports a host of livability initiatives including public transit and a network of bikeways and greenways.

UW was ranked No. 5 by the Center for Measuring University Performance for total research funding and No. 10 for government sponsored research. Those enormous research capabilities have launched dozens of startup companies in everything from information technology to biotech. Among them: Shine Medical Technologies, founded by a UW professor who developed a proprietary manufacturing process to produce medical isotopes without the use of a nuclear reactor. The company is building an $85 million facility and will eventually employ 150 workers.

The Madison region is filled with stories of successful entrepreneurs who came to Madison to attend UW and decided to stay and build their companies, in part because of its desirable livability attributes. Epic, founded in 1979 by Judith Falkner, who earned her master’s degree in computer science at UW, is a colossus in the electronic medical records industry. Epic, in turn, has been a breeding ground for entrepreneurs who worked at the company and then went on to launch their own businesses.

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