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UND President Mark Kennedy speaks to an audience of approximately 60 during a presentation to the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. Thursday at the Grand Forks Herald. Korrie Wenzel/Forum News Service

Mark Kennedy: 'Connective tissue' key for UND's future

GRAND FORKS—Grand Forks can push the University of North Dakota's strategic plan by further embracing the campus and by helping develop more "connective tissue" between the school's research efforts and the business community, UND President Mark Kennedy told a group of business leaders Thursday.

Kennedy was the keynote speaker during the monthly meeting of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. board, which invited a group of CEOs, entrepreneurs and others to hear a progress report on UND's strategic plan. Kennedy rolled out the plan earlier this year.

Approximately 60 people attended the event, held at the Grand Forks Herald.

Kennedy spoke for nearly an hour and gave a point-by-point update, highlighting the plan's focus on learning, engagement and discovery at UND. The plan is the result of months of work by a 45-member committee and discussions with approximately 800 others associated with UND.

At the end of his speech Thursday, Kennedy was asked by an audience member what the community initially can do to help push and develop the plan. He gave a three-part answer.

First, community members can help by placing and embracing more signage throughout town, he said. He had earlier critiqued what he called the current "junior varsity banners on our light poles" and suggested erecting larger, brighter double-sided banners throughout the city.

Second, entrepreneurs can help by assuming oversight of commercial space at the university. Kennedy said that means entrepreneurship in the form of small retail businesses like restaurants and coffee shops, but also perhaps mixed-use housing and retail. The university also is exploring changes in replacing the campus steam plant.

"When we get to the point of the plan when we are having some commercial space that is consistent with the university that many universities have, I think there are opportunities for entrepreneurs here in Grand Forks to help us," he said. "We don't want to be running those facilities, but we want to have someone else running them. There is no reason it can't be an entrepreneur here."

And third, Kennedy said he would like better engagement to help "monetize the research" being conducted at UND.

"We have so many elements of the ecosystem that make this one of the top unmanned (aerial system) spaces on the planet," he said. "But too often, our research is bypassed or not being focused on. It's a lot of activity spinning through the hamster wheel doing stuff, but is it really creating value long-term, with people employed here in the region?

"I think that is best done if we have more connective tissue between our research and our discovery. How do we economically turn that into value?"

After the meeting, Kennedy said the goal is to transition from research discovery to commercial applications that result in jobs in the region. He said that will require close collaboration between private entities and the university.

Kennedy was invited to speak by Economic Development Corp. CEO Keith Lund, who said it was his goal "to introduce the senior business community to the strategic plan, Kennedy's vision and the president personally."

"It's the second time I've heard it. Hearing it the first time was one of the reasons (for inviting Kennedy to speak to the EDC)," Lund said after the meeting. "I was impressed by his pragmatism, his focus on the fundamentals and his focus on branding. I think as a business community, we have to recognize the value of the institution and be supportive of the direction of UND."