"Clusters" brings to mind those gooey concoctions of chocolate, pecans and caramel. But clusters can also refer to concentrations of businesses in similar fields.
A study commissioned by the University of Illinois Research Park recently identified three areas with "significant potential to fuel broad, positive economic and social growth in East Central Illinois."
DATA ANALYTICS/MANAGEMENT AND COMPUTING
Includes: "Big data," cloud computing, network and computer security
Resources: National Center for Supercomputing Applications, Information Trust Institute, Advanced Digital Sciences Center
Businesses: Amdocs, Volition, Wolfram Alpha, HDF Group
Conclusion: "A critical mass of assets, talent, innovation, activity and support are present. Community support ... is clear." The study says this cluster is "the most advanced and ready for development."
BIOMEDICAL AND BIOENGINEERING
Includes: Medical devices, instruments, diagnostics, bioimaging
Resources: Carle Hospital, Beckman Institute, Institute for Genomic Biology; plus, "the UI's bioengineering department is expected to double in size over the next three to four years, with the addition of 30 faculty members."
Businesses: iCyt, Immuven, Glucosentient, Aptimmune Biologics
Conclusion: "While Carle has provided opportunities for collaboration, the hospital is not academic in focus, is limited in size and lacks a patient pool sufficient for most clinical trials."
"To grow the cluster ... will require the resources of a full-scale medical program and academic hospital. ... Early high-level discussions about an expanded medical school and academic hospital are occurring within the university."
Includes: Biofuels, energy storage, smart grid, renewable energy
Resources: Energy Biosciences Institute, ADM Bioenergy Modeling Center
Businesses: Dioxide Materials, Xerion Advanced Battery, Power World, Tetravitae Bioscience
Conclusion: "The combination of research and knowledge, commercialization of technology and start-up activity starts to form a critical mass for energy cluster development. ... This sector is in an earlier stage than the other two recommended clusters, but nevertheless, opportunities exist."
ABOUT THE STUDY
The 61-page report was prepared by Business Cluster Development, a consulting business based in Menlo Park, Calif. It was based, in part, on interviews with 35 "stakeholders" at the university and in the Champaign-Urbana community. The research park paid $35,000 for the consultants' study.