Development, education linked

By Stephanie Bradley

NIU President John LaTourette recently addressed the relationship between the economic development of the “Golden Corridor” and higher education.

The “Golden Corridor” runs for 23 miles between O’Hare International Airport and Elgin along Interstate 90.

At a recent luncheon for the members of the Northwest Suburban Association of Commerce and Industry, LaTourette described how the country’s change from a manufacturing to an information-based economy will affect NIU and vice versa.

“Education has always been extremely important to the continued growth and economic development of a region. Historically, there has always been a strong relationship between advances in knowledge and to the development of new products and techniques of production,” LaTourette said.

John Lewis, NIU director of corporate relations, said the new businesses along the corridor need a well-trained work force. The work force will be composed of NIU graduates because 92 percent of NIU graduates stay in the Chicago area when they are hired for their first job, he said. 94 percent of NIU students come from the Chicago area, he said.

Lewis said the research conducted at NIU will encourage new business growth because research leads to the development of new products and technological advances. These new products and advances then will spur new business.

NIU’s past reputation as a major land grant university now is changing to a high-tech and service-oriented university, Lewis said. A land grant university is one that is devoted to developing agriculture, he said.

Because of the area’s new economic development, NIU must understand the needs of businesses and how NIU can work with businesses to fulfill those needs, Lewis said. This, however, does not mean area businesses will dictate what NIU’s curriculum is, he said.

“NIU has resources that will help the corridor develop. The corridor will provide more opportunities to use NIU’s programs. (It provides) a need for technical people, which NIU provides,” Lewis said.

LaTourette said high-quality higher education has helped states develop the ability to transform their economies from manufacturing to information-based, and that the “states with the best educational systems are making the transformation most effectively.”

Other Illinois universities, especially those in the Chicago area such as the University of Chicago, Illinois Institute of Technology and Northwestern University in Evanston, do not pose a great threat to NIU in terms of where the businesses get their employees, Lewis said. Other Illinois universities only yield about 50 to 60 percent of their graduates to the Chicago area work force, whereas 92 percent of NIU graduates stay in the area, he said.