By Greg Reibman
UMass Amherst’s plan to create an innovation-economy-focused research institution near I-95 in Newton could be transformative for our region.
The state university’s leadership aims to convert the former Mount Ida College campus into a hub for career preparation and experiential learning in areas that have been driving the Massachusetts’ economy; including health care, business, computer science and other STEM specialties.
Those are precisely the skills many employers in the N-Squared Innovation District have been looking for and should make our region more attractive to entrepreneurs and business, not just locally but globally.
Working in partnership with Newton, Needham and the state, our N-Squared project has been the chamber’s top economic development project over the past five years. Millions of dollars are being invested into transportation improvements, designed to make the area more walkable and bikable. We’re working with employers on growing private shuttles and adding amenities. Hundreds of new apartments are under construction. More units are being proposed.
Meanwhile, TripAdvisor, CyberArk, SharkNinja, Big Belly Solar, Karyopharm Therapeutics, Verastem and other innovative companies have established global headquarters here and we have plenty of room to grow.
But you can’t create an entrepreneurial economy without a talent pipeline. Our employers tell us their biggest challenge is finding skilled workers to fill their well-paying jobs in cyber-security, biotech, robotics, consumer devices, web development, smart cities and other innovative fields.
And now -- along with top business talent coming from Babson College; engineers being trained at Olin College; and Boston College’s planned $150 million lab and classroom facility in Chestnut Hill focused on energy, health and the environment -- comes UMass Amerst, poised to help meet our employers’ number one need.
In announcing the agreement to acquire the assets of Mount Ida, UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy highlighted the 74-acre campus’ location in the N-Squared Innovation District and along the tech-focused I-95 corridor as pivotal to the university’s decision.
“This is a strategic move that will expand career opportunities for our students and help drive the Massachusetts economy while strengthening the flagship campus’ position in the competitive national higher education marketplace,” said Subbaswamy.
“The Mount Ida campus’ ideal location will help us grow a much-needed talent pipeline for Massachusetts businesses, especially in high-demand STEM fields. And since the flagship campus educated more Massachusetts residents last year than the top eight private universities in Massachusetts combined, we are keenly aware of our responsibility to keep Massachusetts at the forefront of innovation and discovery.”
The Newton campus, which as of deadline still awaits final approvals, would be known as the Mount Ida Campus of UMass Amherst. It would operate as an extension of the Amherst campus and will not enroll undergraduate students directly.
But Subbaswamy tells me that he’s interested in establishing a continuing education program here. And he’ll be looking for other ways to open its N-Squared campus to local entrepreneurs and startups.
Last year UMass Amherst awarded 1,700 undergraduate STEM degrees, more than any other college or university in the state. In addition, academic-industry collaborations, which currently account for a growing portion of UMass Amherst’s $220 million annual research and development expenditures, will be initiated at the Mount Ida campus.
With this move – coupled with improvements to our infrastructure, transportation and added housing supply -- the N-Squared Innovation District and other inner suburban areas west of Boston will become an even more attractive destination than we already are for employers from across the globe.