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University, city officials formally announce Idea Week

| Monday, December 4, 2017

The University announced Friday that it will host Idea Week in partnership with the city of South Bend, the city of Elkhart and other local community groups starting April 21, 2018. The week is designed to showcase innovation and entrepreneurship in the South Bend area and will involve entrepreneurship events, a concert at the Purcell Pavilion, a performance by a “major comedian” and a TEDx event.

Tom Naatz

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg delivers a speech addressing his experiences with innovation and advancement within the city at a press conference in the Studebaker 113 Building.

Several high-profile community officials from the University, South Bend and Elkhart made a formal announcement regarding Idea Week at a Friday press conference, held at South Bend’s Studebaker 113 Building.

University provost Thomas Burish said Notre Dame’s location in South Bend has been a key part of the University’s success.

“It’s a truism to say that you can’t have a great university unless that university is embedded in a great community,” Burish said. “The reason is that unless you’re in a great community, a community that has a strong financial base, that has good schools and a low crime rate, prospective faculty and staff are not going to want to come to live in that community and therefore work at that university. Notre Dame has made a lot of progress in recent years, and it’s the result of this being a great community in which the staff and faculty of the University can live and work. On behalf of a grateful university, we want to thank all of you for that.”

Burish said research at Notre Dame has blossomed in recent years, as the University has “nearly doubled” its external research budget, which refers to money coming from the government and other external agencies. Last year, Notre Dame’s research budget was $138 million. Burish attributed that success to the University’s administrators but especially to the work of the University’s faculty and staff.

“That research growth is also a both a testament to the support the University receives from this community, and an important contributor back to the community,” Burish said. “About 75 percent of all the external research dollars we receive are spent locally.”

Another truism of both great communities and great universities, Burish said, is a desire to constantly improve. He said past members of the Notre Dame and South Bend community worked to lay a strong foundation so today’s communities could “climb higher and see farther.”

“Idea Week is an effort that signals the partnership between the community, and the University wants to do even more — in this case, in the area of commercialization, innovation and entrepreneurship,” he said

Burish said he hopes the results of Idea Week will improve the entire world.

“We want to make sure the results of the research that I just described and the results of other innovations going on in the community … improve the world, improve the community,“ he said. ”That’s what we want to celebrate with Idea Week.”

The next speaker was Scott Mereness, president of Elkhart’s Lippert Components, Inc., who discussed recent innovative developments in Elkhart, such as a “renaissance” in the RV industry and the increasing prominence of robots in the area.

“Elkhart County embodies the entrepreneurial spirit and self-made manufacturing culture that now drives some of our nation’s bigger pastimes,” Mereness said. “With an appetite for risk the county’s manufacturing industry continues to dream up new and exciting products, all the while paying great attention to innovation and progress. When you look at these great innovation programs that Notre Dame and St. Joe County have in progress coupled with the manufacturing strength of Elkhart, it’s my belief that our two counties have much to benefit from working together with each other.”

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg reflected on the progress he said South Bend has made in recent years.

“When I was a kid being driven to school past this area, past this building, past the ground that is now Ignition Park, it was taken for granted that there would be collapsing industrial infrastructure all around us,” Buttigieg said. “I didn’t even think to ask what it was doing there, because until I left for a little while for school I didn’t know that every city didn’t have collapsing industrial infrastructure … and I didn’t understand until later the story that it told.”

Buttigieg said South Bend’s manufacturing heritage provided a foundation for the middle class. He said despite a downturn in recent decades, South Bend is on the cutting edge of manufacturing innovation.

“The reason all of us are fortunate to be alive now, and in particular alive and in the South Bend-Elkhart region and connected either with industry or the social sector or the academy here, is that we are living present at the creation of a new, entrepreneurial era in our region,” Buttigieg said. “This building alone is a testament to it. And it’s not an accident the number of people who have begun to take an interest in our small city. In this building alone, this year alone, we have hosted people from the head of the international carpenters’ union, to the founder of the Dollar Shave Club, to the mayor of Los Angeles, to the CEO of Facebook … Because people are fascinated by the story of a city like ours, that went through an extraordinary industrial heyday, a near collapse and now this amazing moment of renewal. What’s powering that renewal, of course, is ideas.”

Buttigieg referenced the work of Harvard professor of economics Ed Glaeser in explaining that cities are uniquely positioned to power innovation.

“Ed Glaeser argued that the reason that cities create so much more intellectual activity … is that they create exchange — not just exchange of goods and services, but exchange of ideas and exchange of culture,” Buttigieg said. “And that is why we are so enthused about the concept of Idea Week.”

The last speaker was Bryan Ritchie, Notre Dame’s vice president and associate provost for innovation. Ritchie said Idea Week has brought together a unique array of figures in the South Bend community.

“As you were all coming in, [Burish] and I were watching you come in, and we were just commenting, ‘What a unique group of people all in one place,’” Ritchie said. “Business, government, academia — this is exactly the kind of cooperative collection of people that will be necessary to continue this progress that we have embarked upon in this region.”

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