With the help of funding from the Department of Commerce (DOC) Economic Development Authority (EDA), Louisiana State University’s Industrial Innovation Center (IIC) will help its nearby industry partners identify needs for chemical manufacturing technology and create jobs for its students along the way.
The university announced Nov. 16 that it had received a $498,624 award through EDA’s Regional Innovation Strategies (RIS) program. IIC’s purpose is to link chemical manufacturing executives in the area with university experts, who can work with companies to develop technology. LSU has existing partnerships with 90 local chemical manufacturing companies. This line of work is prevalent in Louisiana; the 200-mile stretch down the Mississippi River has been dubbed the nation’s “chemical corridor.”
IIC was one of 34 organizations across the country to receive the grant; 215 organizations applied. Jonathan Shi, director of IIC, said he and his team submitted their proposal for the grant in June. This was the first time IIC received an EDA grant.
“I was not surprised, to be honest,” Shi said. “I was pretty confident because we had a very unique situation, including very strong partners.”
IIC has two goals for this grant, according to Shi. First, the university will work with its industry partners to identify their technological needs. Shi described his center’s role as an infrastructure aid to help their partners come up with ideas for new tech. IIC’s second goal is to set up a think tank, where experts will study existing tech and divine what will be available in the market 20 years down the road.
Shi and his team are in the process of meeting with their 90 partners. He said they are focusing on three chief user groups during these meetings: chemical facility managers, industry contractors, and workforce training.
“The uniqueness of the grant is that it does not focus on one particular technology. Chemical industry is the backbone of the economy for this state,” Shi said. “If you don’t have a purpose, innovation would have no future.”
EDA’s grant will be used to create new industry, in addition to supporting the companies that already exist. The LSU Innovation Park, which lies on a 200-acre plot of land on the banks of the Mississippi River, contains 40 labs for companies to work with LSU students, professors, and researchers. A former Albemarle chemical facility, the structure now serves as LSU’s chemical manufacturing workshop and collaboration center.
Forty-four companies, including Exxon Mobil and Dow Chemical, use the space for testing. Charles D’Agostino, executive director of LSU’s Innovation Park and the Louisiana Business and Technology Center, said he hopes to create spin-off companies from the major companies that use the labs. D’Agostino said he has plans to construct another building on the 200-acre space to prepare for the time when the university develops more industry partners than the first building can accommodate. He also said increasing industry presence along the river will create more jobs, which LSU student interns who work in the Innovation Park can fill.
“We look at EDA as one of our greatest allies. It’s a good partnership between the tech and business development sides of the university,” D’Agostino said. “We’re excited about EDA recognizing the ability of LSU to put these two compounds together.”