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Moonshot Recommendation #1: A Comprehensive Engineering School at UNCW

We need to reiterate that Wilmington is in a “Winner Take All” competition for talented people, companies, and high paying jobs. The most intensive competition comes from larger cities with top engineering schools and research programs. They become “Tech Hubs,” where talent clusters with other highly talented professionals and companies. Economic forecasters say this competition is intensifying, with no end in sight.

Every Tech Hub has an excellent Engineering School at its core. Wilmington’s UNCW does not have an Engineering School, and Wilmington does not have a Tech Hub.

The Economic Scorecard confirms we are weak in advanced degrees in general, research and patents. This results in low levels of technology transfer, new product development, new business spinoffs, angel investing, and venture capital; all of which create jobs and prosperity, self-reinforcing virtues.

These are identifiable outputs of an excellent engineering and sciences curriculum. UNCW is soaring as a fine academic institution with increasing recognition, and Wilmington has performed brilliantly as an economic engine for the state, primarily based on our surge in tourism. Wilmington and UNCW are deserving of this academic upgrade now, and it will richly reward the region and the state. The UNC system and state government must unleash constraints on UNCW that keep our region from fulfilling its true potential. In turn, the Wilmington region is capable of rewarding the state with revenues, prestige, and serve as a magnet for economic out-performance while becoming an even finer place to live, work, and play.

How do we make this happen? It isn’t easy. We need collaboration by all sectors of our region to make it happen. We will have to insist that all obstacles be removed. If we identify one or more generous philanthropists who wish to name a school in honor of their family or business, we all know that the availability of funding speaks louder than words.

UNCW has earned the support of many of us in this region who have moved here from places where college gifts, even at the hundred million dollar level, are frequent and little noticed. At UNCW, a contributor at that level or a good deal less, would have an enduring legacy at the university and in the region. It would assure that we would have that Engineering School underway immediately, not slowly over the next 20 years, as we move forward from a beginning program in undergraduate Coastal Engineering through a slow evolution.

There is another way. With over 1,000 engineering schools around the United States, and an estimated 7,000 internationally, it is possible to find a compatible university to co-locate with UNCW, with complementary coursework. This happens occasionally, and RWF will welcome hearing of colleges interested in relocating or branching, to take advantage of our superior quality of place. We would have to be prepared to offer financial inducements, just as we would for a company bringing good jobs and prosperity to our region.

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