sealPurdue News

April 1, 1997

Summit urges economic innovation

INDIANAPOLIS -- The United States needs to reinvent the process of invention if it wants to retain its dominance in the world economy, Purdue University President Steven C. Beering told a gathering of chief executive officers, government leaders and university administrators from across the Midwest today (Tuesday, 4/1).

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Beering's remarks were part of a regional summit to examine the future of research and development and the potential for partnerships between industry, government and academia. Sponsored by the Big Ten universities, the University of Chicago and the Washington, D.C.-based Council on Competitiveness, "A Midwest Summit on the Future of American Innovation" focused on strengthening the links between research and economic competitiveness.

Business participants included Randall Tobias, chief executive officer of Eli Lilly and Co., Gary Tooker, chairman of the board of Motorola, and Alfred A. Piergallini, president of Gerber Products Co. Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon and U.S. Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) represented state and federal government, while universities sent vice presidents of research and directors of technology transfer offices.

The meeting capped off three regional summits that will lead up to a national conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology next spring.

Beering, who organized and hosted the third regional summit in Indianapolis, said the American system of research-based innovation isn't broken, but it is in need of refinement.

"We're anticipating and preventing a potential crisis so America remains the No. 1 economic power in the global economy," Beering said. "The key will be creating strong collaborations among state and federal agencies, private industry and leading universities."

The end of the Cold War, federal efforts to balance the budget and pay for the rising cost of entitlements, and low industrial investment in basic research will put innovation at risk if new ways aren't found to support the research and educational missions of universities like Purdue and ensure that technology and training is available to U.S. industries, he said.

Research universities are uniquely poised to participate in the processes of invention and innovation, Beering said: "The university has always been the motor for generating new and interesting ideas as well as developing the human capital we need to lead."

John Yochelson, president of the Council on Competitiveness, which is the driving force behind the regional and national conferences, said "no less than the American standard of living is at stake."

"We can't support our quality of life if we're just making the same products that everybody else is," Yochelson said. "We need to constantly develop the new and better products that command a premium price on the world market."

Yochelson said earlier investments in science and technology came about in the face of crisis, such as the oil embargo in the '70s that led to new energy research and the Russian launching of Sputnik in the late '50s that led to the Space Race and a national interest in science, research and technical education.

"As we moved from national security issues to economic issues, it's a harder sell to show research and development is a pressing national need," Yochelson said. "We need a Sputnik."

Tobias, while acknowledging the role industry-university relationships play in fostering innovation, said other issues continue to stifle U.S. competitiveness. He called for vigorous enforcement of patent rights to safeguard U.S. discoveries and said tort reform here at home would stimulate American investment in new products and technologies.

Still, Tobias said he anticipates that Lilly soon will be spending half of its $1 billion research budget outside the walls of its labs in partnerships with universities, national labs and other research and development entities.

"All of the intellectual tools, the knowledge base that allows us to create technology that meets a need, comes out of the basic research that has been the traditional staple of our great universities," Tobias said.

Sources: Steven C. Beering, (765) 494-9708
John Yochelson, (202) 682-4292
Danielle Halstrom, Eli Lilly, (317) 277-6990
Writer: Chris Sigurdson, (765) 494-8415; e-mail,
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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Purdue President Steven C. Beering (left) welcomes Indiana Gov. Frank O'Bannon to the Midwest Summit on the Future of American Innovation on Tuesday (4/1) in Indianapolis. (Purdue News Service photo by Vince Walter)

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