The Union of Town and Gown

University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Lincoln, Neb.


University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Lincoln, Neb.
City population:
251,624
UNL student population: 22,988
University employees: 7,754
Metro area small businesses: 6,369
Nearest major airport: Eppley Airfield, Omaha (53 miles)

In a geographically large state with a low population and high cow concentration, institutions must work overtime to reach citizens. "At UNL, we feel strongly about supporting all Nebraskans," says Kathleen Thornton, associate director of the Nebraska Center for Entrepreneurship. "That means across the board, not just our students. Outreach is a vital component." To that end, UNL serves as a hub for entrepreneurial activity, hosting events like the Nebraska Summit on Entrepreneurship; The Heartland Conference on Free Enterprise, which focuses on the rural economy; and the New Ventures Competition, which brings student entrepreneurs from around the world to Lincoln to compete for seed money. But its biggest impact might be through simply introducing students to the concept of entrepreneurship. "We'll do an entire day of speakers at the journalism school," Thornton says. "We'll tell those students, many of whom will stay in Nebraska, how to take that journalism degree and start a business for themselves."

Town Pride
Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler explains how the university has shaped his city and served as an important source of economic development.

What's the biggest impact the university has made?
In the last four or five years, the university has been emphasizing federal research grants. Increased capacity to do research creates a spinoff effect. We need to accentuate the creative and rely more and more on education and partnerships, especially in an economy that's not favoring manufacturing.

I hear you kicked the state fair out of town. What's the deal?
We said we'd let the historic state fair go to a new city if the legislature would let us have that land for a new innovation campus. Now that land is designed to take university research and evolve it through various stages of development.

What other economic developments are you working on?
The university is supporting Turbine Flats, where entrepreneurs can get office space. It's an effort to encourage tech entrepreneurs to stay in Lincoln.

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Jason Daley lives and writes in Madison, Wisconsin. His work regularly appears in Popular Science, Outside and other magazines.

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This article was originally published in the October 2009 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Union of Town and Gown.

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