NU, Evanston economic development partnership ends


(Daily file photo by Brian Lee)

Robert Yohanan, CEO of Evanston-based First Bank & Trust, opens the NU Startup Showcase which was co-hosted by Evanston Inventure. The city announced the end of the Evanston Inventure partnership after more than 30 years.

Catherine Henderson, Assistant City Editor

After more than 30 years of collaboration between Evanston, Northwestern and other local institutions, the city announced on April 4 the end of the Evanston Inventure partnership.

The formal partnership between Evanston, NU, Evanston/Skokie School District 65, Evanston Township High School/District 202, NorthShore University HealthSystem and others centered on economic development in Evanston. The program started with the creation of the Northwestern University/Evanston Research Park, which is now closed.

Economic development manager Paul Zalmezak said the research park was a center for startups from NU to develop in Evanston instead of moving to Chicago or other cities. He said other universities use the same concept to encourage professors and students to contribute economically to local communities.

“(A research park) involves turning some of the work that researchers were doing into profit such as startups and growth companies,” Zalmezak said. “It’s basically the commercialization of university research.”

Zalmezak said NU’s research park may have closed because the timing was off or real estate became more valuable. Still, he said the city no longer needs a partnership like Evanston Inventure because NU and Evanston communicate without the program.

Alan Anderson, executive director of neighborhood and community relations at NU, reiterated Zalmezak’s point that the city no longer needs such a formal partnership with the University. He added that The Garage at NU now serves the same purpose as the former research park.

“We’re continuously looking at ways to be a good partner to the City of Evanston around economic development,” Anderson said. “We’re supportive and want to work closely with the city about how best to do that.”

City manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the director of the Evanston Inventure program retired several years ago, but a small group kept the program alive “in name only.” The program itself had no hired staff but operated mainly through other economic programs within individual institutions, he said.

Since the beginning of the program in 1984, Evanston has evolved and no longer needs the organization, Bobkiewicz said. Still, he emphasized the importance of its impact.

“Evanston Inventure helped lay some important groundwork between the city and the University to collaborate more in general,” Bobkiewicz said. “That work will continue without Inventure through the close partnership between the city and the University. … The Inventure model served its purpose and we’re happy to move on and remember the good work that it did.”

According to a news release, the group will donate its last $12,000 to the Elevate Evanston workforce development initiative.

Bobkiewicz said the resources for Evanston Inventure will be best used elsewhere in the city, and he praised the group’s final action. He said the University and the city have worked closely in job training programs in recent years.

“Prior to Inventure’s involvement, this regular, easy interaction between the city, the University, the hospitals and the school district just wasn’t happening,” Bobkiewicz said. “The legacy that Inventure leaves is that healthy environment where collaboration takes place on a very regular basis.”

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