CHARLESTON -- Eastern Illinois University and Illinois State University are the latest additions to a network intended to boost Illinois’ economy through entrepreneurship, research and workforce development.

“We look forward to proactively collaborating with our network partners – including Lake Land College – which will allow us to more efficiently meet the unique demands of our regional workforce, as well as the more comprehensive needs of our broader Illinois economy,” EIU President David Glassman said.

His comments came after it was announced Wednesday that EIU had joined the Illinois Innovation Network. Led by the University of Illinois System, the network was launched in August with “hubs” at U of I institutions and Discovery Partners Institute in downtown Chicago. It now has 15 hubs.

The idea is for the hubs to use the strengths of universities and communities to work, in collaboration with Discovery Partners Institute, to foster research innovation that promotes progress and economic growth.

With Wednesday's additions, the network now includes all of the state's public universities.

EIU will be joining with Lake Land College and community partners to create the East-Central Illinois Hub. Expansion of the existing Center for Clean Energy and Research Education on the EIU campus will be among its initiatives. It will focus on "issues of environment, economic development, entrepreneurship, visualization of community-based assets and infrastructure assessments, rural social systems and community sustainability," according to a news release from Eastern.

Ryan Hendrickson, East Central Illinois Hub chair, said the very basic structures of the local hub are already in place, but the bulk of the opportunities will require the governor and state lawmakers to approve funding.

According to the news release, the hubs will benefit from $500 million in capital funds that were approved for the Illinois Innovation Network last year by the Illinois legislature, pending reappropriation in this year’s state budget.

The local hub is asking for a $1 million grant to expand the existing Center for Clean Energy Research and Education on the EIU campus, a project that would take approximately a year or so to build once funded, said Hendrickson, dean of the Graduate School. This will offer a work space for faculty, students and regional economic leaders to jointly collaborate on research and innovations related to their focus.

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"What is so wonderful to see is university cooperation across the state," he said. "Universities will collaborate in a way that doesn't happen."

Or at least, it does not happen often and to this extent, he added.

Hendrickson said this initiative will illustrate universities' roles in driving economic innovation across the state.

Wednesday's announcement gave a boost to the idea of a business incubator at Illinois State University.

“By joining the Illinois Innovation Network, Illinois State University is able to play an even bigger role in promoting technological development and economic growth in this state,” said President Larry Dietz.

Speaking at a news conference in Springfield on Wednesday, Dietz said, “Our proposed hub would establish a maker space, an entrepreneurial educational center, a startup incubator and access to specialized facilities on the ISU and Heartland Community College campuses to support startups that need things like high performance computing capability or scientific resources.”

Eric Jome, ISU's director of media relations, said a business incubator has been under discussion at ISU for a couple of years.

“Being part of this statewide network is a good idea because it connects us more with other universities and enables us to share resources with the entire state,” said Jome. “This is an excellent opportunity to partner with the U of I and partner with other universities on economic development.”

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Jarad Jarmon is a reporter for the JG-TC. He covers the city of Charleston, Eastern Illinois University, Mattoon schools and the Regional Office of Education.

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