CULLOWHEE – Western Carolina University announced plans today (Friday, Feb. 18) for the Millennial Initiative, a comprehensive regional economic development strategy made possible by the recent acquisition of 344 acres of property adjacent to the main campus.
Characterized by Chancellor John W. Bardo as “a defining moment in the university’s 115-year history,” the Millennial Initiative is designed to enable Western to engage in public-private partnerships that enhance educational opportunities for students in high-tech programs and increase the ability of faculty to conduct cutting-edge research, while simultaneously promoting economic development.
University officials plan to develop the property as a multiple-use neighborhood that will be home to a mix of academic buildings, research facilities, business, industry and housing. Located on the opposite side of N.C. Highway 107 from the university’s main campus, the land will become a “knowledge enterprise zone” where university, private industry and government partners conduct research and development into scientific and technological innovations that have commercial applications, Bardo said.
“We are attempting to fulfill a promise we made to the people of Western North Carolina,” Bardo said. “We want to keep the best and brightest of the region’s young people from having no choice but to leave home to find the type of high-paying jobs available elsewhere. We want the children of the mountains to be able to remain in the mountains and to be participants in the high-tech, knowledge-based global economy of the 21st century.”
State legislation approved in 2000, based on a measure originally written by staff at Western, made it possible for University of North Carolina institutions to seek public-private partnerships to improve the academic experience for students and allow universities to apply their intellectual resources – their faculty, students and staff – to foster economic development to benefit their respective regions and the state.
Western purchased the Millennial Initiative land – 64 acres known as the Killian property and 280 acres called the Hooper tract – using $2.87 million set aside for property acquisition as part of the university’s share of funds provided through the 2000 N.C. Higher Education Bond Referendum. University officials estimate that up to 75 percent of the land, extending from the property line of the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching past the Jackson County Airport and along Little Savannah Road, is suitable for building. The acquisitions more than double the size of Western’s campus.
“North Carolina is distinguished among states as an innovator in science and technology. Our ability to produce innovative technologies and a skilled, knowledgeable workforce will be an important factor in determining our future economic success,” said N.C. Gov. Michael Easley. “Western Carolina University’s Millennial Initiative capitalizes on Western’s research and entrepreneurial strengths to promote economic development and prepare the region’s workforce for the transformed economy of the new millennium.”
U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor called the launching of the Millennial Initiative a significant part of on-going efforts to help the people of WNC rebound from staggering job losses in such traditional manufacturing areas as furniture and textiles.
“The Millennial Initiative is a logical extension of the work that we have been doing over the past several years through the Education and Research Consortium,” said Taylor. “Since its inception in 1997, the ERC has had this simple statement as its mission: to further economic development in the Western Carolinas through education, infrastructure and capital development. That is exactly what we see unfolding today through Western’s Millennial Initiative. There is a brighter future awaiting the people of the mountain region.”
UNC President Molly Corbett Broad described Western’s plans as an essential part of the state university system’s responsibility to help build a stronger future for all North Carolinians.
“Economic development is of immense importance to the state of North Carolina and the 16-campus University of North Carolina , especially in light of the painful repercussions our state has suffered from relentless changes in the global economy,” Broad said. “But economic development does not happen by accident or through minor changes. It will only come through a large-scale transformation of thought and action, and that is what we see taking place at Western with the Millennial Initiative.”
More than 200 leaders from business, government, education and economic development agencies were on hand for the historic announcement, held in A.K. Hinds University Center.
Speakers at the announcement included Robert McMahan, science and technology adviser to Gov. Easley and executive director of the N.C. Board of Science and Technology; Russ Lea, UNC vice president for research and sponsored programs; John Hunter, executive director of the ERC; Dale Carroll, president of AdvantageWest; F. Edward Broadwell Jr. of the UNC Board of Governors; and Joan MacNeill, a member of Western’s board of trustees.
University officials say they want to move as quickly as possible on development of the Millennial property, and are in the early phases of a comprehensive master plan to determine the most logical building sites for the different types of structures to be located there.
Representatives of several private companies already have contacted university officials to explore potential partnerships, including a business investigating environmentally friendly methods of pest control, a wireless technology company interested in new product development, and a secure data storage facility.
More information on the Millennial Initiative at Western Carolina University is available on the Web at millennial.wcu.edu.