If necessity is the mother of invention, then what might be invention's offspring?
In Greensboro, the answer is easy: Defined as scientific discovery, invention gives birth to a vibrant economy that marries research and development pursuits with job-creation initiatives.
"The idea is you start with R&D, and things will grow. Other localities have used a similar idea with very good results," says James G. Ryan, the founding dean of the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering, a collaboration of Greensboro-based North Carolina A&T State University, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the local business community.
A noted nanoscientist at the University of Albany, Ryan took the helm of the joint school in July 2008.
Building on the strong research track records of both universities, the $60 million joint school concentrates on three areas: nanobioscience, focusing on biology and chemistry; nanotechnology, emphasizing engineering and technology; and environmental nanoscience, addressing ethical and environmental implications of nanoscience.
The joint school is located in the Gateway University Research Park, a collaboration of both schools and invites private ventures with like-minded research interests to locate in the park or nearby.
"Such collaborations offer leverage – financial leverage in that any given entity is not paying for everything," Ryan says. "There's also a component of intellectual leverage in that you're bringing together smart folks – some from the industrial world and some of the academic world – and bringing that brainpower to bear on certain types of problems."
All those smart folks mean a bright Greensboro future, says Dan Lynch, president of the Greensboro Economic Development Alliance, pointing to the community's higher-education resources as a catalyst for economic success.
Not only is Greensboro home to NC A&T and UNCG, Bennett College, Greensboro College, Guilford College and Guilford Technical Community College all call Greensboro home. In addition, nearby Elon University launched its School of Law in downtown Greensboro in 2006.
"We're fortunate because all our colleges and universities are very close to our center city. It just gives us this constant stream of young people, and that's good for the economy," Lynch says. "We've had this renaissance in downtown residential, restaurants and theaters, all of those things that drive your livability."
Greensboro's higher education landscape also includes an NSF Engineering Research Center at NC A&T.
Jagannathan Sankar, NC A&T Distinguished Professor of Mechanical Engineering, heads the center. He calls the NSF designation, which means $18.5 million over five years, "the Nobel prize for engineering." NC A&T, which is the first historically black institution to reach this engineering apex, is the lead organization, with three other universities involved.
The center, which began operations in late 2008, focuses on revolutionizing metallic biomaterials with the goal of improving medical devices and implants.
Sankar says the center's research approach turns traditional scientific methodology on its ear. Center researchers start with an existing product, such as an orthopaedic implant, and work backward to devise ways to improve it.
"It's a totally mission-oriented research center with economic development as its thrust," he says. "We work with industries from day one."
Students at the center have the opportunity to earn bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in various engineering disciplines.
"This provides an unprecedented opportunity for the next generation," Sankar says. "The dream came true. We wanted it. We asked for it. Now we won, and now we have to deliver. We have an opportunity to change people's lives."