The Harford Courant recently ran an op-ed piece from Joanne Berger-Sweeney, president of Trinity College and a professor of neuroscience.
There has been a good deal of conversation about General Electric’s decision to move its headquarters to Boston. This discussion is a healthy sign as we chart Connecticut’s future. Having recently relocated to Hartford from Boston, my perspective is informed by having been part of that particular ecosystem that drew GE to the Bay State. At the same time, as a relative newcomer to Connecticut, I am incredibly optimistic about the wealth of resources that are right here in Greater Hartford.
I’m quite familiar with Boston’s reputation as a leader in technology and innovation and the fact that, as GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt highlighted, it is home to 55 colleges and universities. I served as a dean and faculty member at two of those institutions—Tufts University and Wellesley College—for more than 20 years. I saw firsthand the dynamics generated by colleges and universities collaborating with businesses and government to create an economic powerhouse and a seat of innovation.
In July 2014, I came to Hartford to become the president of Trinity College. What have I seen in my 18 months in Hartford? I’ve seen the very elements I saw in Boston—the elements of innovation, creativity, and intellectual capital just waiting to coalesce and gather momentum.
Greater Hartford has a unique constellation of higher education, medical services, and insurance and financial services in very close proximity. Here are just a few examples: Both Trinity and the University of Hartford offer outstanding engineering programs in which students and faculty are collaborating with industry leaders such as United Technologies Corp. Hartford Hospital, one of the largest purveyors of tertiary care services in the state, is investing in a $140 million-plus Bone & Joint Institute, as well as expanding its Center for Education, Simulation and Innovation in Hartford’s Barry Square neighborhood. The Jackson Laboratory in Farmington is a world leader in developing genomic solutions for diseases. The United Technologies Research Center and the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology in East Hartford are conducting world-class research on energy and additive manufacturing.
An outstanding example of the kind of collaboration that sparks innovation was announced last fall with Hartford.Health.Works. taking the first-place prize in Hartford’s Strong Cities, Strong Communities competition, part of President Barack Obama’s SC2 initiative to spur economic development. The recognition came with a prize that supports the implementation of a vision for Hartford as a hub of entrepreneurialism and medical device manufacturing.
With all of this, what is Hartford missing?
Here in the Greater Hartford area, we have 36,000 students and 3,000 faculty members who are the intellectual driving force of the 11 colleges and universities of the Hartford Consortium for Higher Education—institutions dedicated to advancing education and strengthening our region’s economic, cultural, and social life.
What we need is to bring all of these elements together to create the kind of ecosystem GE’s leaders saw in Boston—one where educational institutions, researchers and businesses, and innovative nonprofits collaborate with enlightened government, all coalescing to foster an ecosystem of innovation.
At the heart of such an ecosystem is collaboration among educational institutions. In the Boston area, for example, Harvard University and MIT collaborated, rather than competed, to create edX, the premier provider of online educational services, and the world-class Broad Institute promoting biomedical sciences. Tufts University offers joint graduate degrees with Boston College. Wellesley, Babson, and Olin colleges offer joint undergraduate majors. Many Boston institutions, based on proximity, are creating collective rather than redundant academic programs to support critical disciplines with small enrollments.
Here in Hartford, we can learn some of Boston’s lessons. We have not yet created an environment where our institutions are collaborating, rather than competing. We have not yet concentrated our efforts into innovation districts, creating density, proximity and support services where like-minded people, thinking about similar problems, can run into each other casually. Only when we do these things will we create an innovative and creative ecosystem that attracts and excites businesses in the future.