In 2007, Composites Kansas (10-county Wichita labor basin) was awarded a Department of Labor (DOL) Workforce Innovation in Regional Economic Development (WIRED) grant. The region’s transformational focus was placed on increasing the competency of workforce and expanding education and training in science, technology, engineering and math. Resources from Composites Kansas supported the emerging composite and advanced materials industry, as the use of composites dramatically accelerated in the aviation and medical device industries, and encouraged migration of a new generation of composite and advanced materials technology to other commercial applications in the region. Composites Kansas had three operational strategies: a) education and training, b) R&D and entrepreneurship, and c) regional economic growth. The region received $5 million over three years to support regional economic transformation through the integration of education, research, workforce and economic development systems.
With WIRED funding, the region was able to serve more than 200 firms and more than 2,900 employees. Composites Kansas trained more than 325 educators, developed more than 50 curricula, and equipped two state-of-the-art laboratories – composites lab and non-destructive testing lab. However, the types of technical assistance available to regional firms were limited with the DOL funds as they could not be used for firm specific commercialization of existing R&D or technology transfer/migration counseling. Regional firms, that have completed strategic planning, indicate that the missing link is technical assistance. These firms have requested technical expertise and business expertise to support and inform their transition to next generation materials and processes and expand their capacity to manufacture improved and new products.
In response to the need for technical assistance, the Wichita State University (WSU) College of Engineering will establish a Center for Innovation and Enterprise Engagement (hereafter called the Center) to strengthen and develop the local manufacturing industries’ innovation competencies in manufacturing processes and product capabilities. The Center will expand the south central Kansas cluster’s ability to conceive, develop, and produce new technologies, to deploy new manufacturing processes, and to improve on the processes that already exist within the private industry sector. The goal of the Center will be to escalate the development and predominance of the south central Kansas advanced manufacturing cluster in the global economy.
The Center will employ an interdisciplinary approach with collaborative partners to promote industry diversification, new industry formation, and process and product improvements within existing firms. The proposed Center will extend and expand the training elements of WIRED that focused on entrepreneurship and small business development and provide additional technical assistance and economic development support to business enterprises.
The Center for Innovation and Enterprise Engagement will:
The business and industry roundtable will connect small business with the technical expertise and business expertise available through the Center’s collaborative partners. Business and industries’ strategic needs will inform and guide the Center’s Technical Advisory Panel and will steer curriculum development and the applied research agenda. The roundtable will serve as a primary communication forum to promote customized services for small businesses, provided by the collaborative partners. To access customized technical expertise and business services, small business enterprises will contact the Center to apply for technical assistance. Firms will have the flexibility to engage expertise that best fits their strategic business focus or business challenge. The Center will assist the firms in selecting a technical assistance mentor to aid firms in development of their technical assistance plans and provide recommendations for potential vendors, if needed.
Interdisciplinary/interagency enterprise development services will be encouraged to provide comprehensive support for the firm’s strategic transformation. These services will produce a worldclass workforce and equip entrepreneurs and business owners with skills, tools and resources to commercialize processes for new technology and products.
The applications for technical assistance will be reviewed by the Technical Advisory Panel, which will make a recommendation to the Board of Directors regarding the feasibility of the plan and a recommendation for subsidizing the technical assistance. Once a technical assistance plan is approved, staff will coordinate with collaborative partners to engage the selected vendor’s services. The region’s technical experts, in conjunction with the laboratory capabilities, will provide small business with the technology transfer/transition counseling, commercialization of existing R&D counseling and mentoring support to enable the small businesses to conceive, develop and produce new and improved products and processes. Outcomes will be measured by increased productivity and profitability, number of new business starts and expansions, number of additional jobs, and number of new manufacturing processes and technologies implemented.