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Hockfield addresses Boston Chamber of Commerce

MIT is an economic powerhouse in Massachusetts and a driving force behind regional innovation -- but no university can go it alone, President Susan Hockfield told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Sept. 14.

Other not-for-profits, businesses and government all have roles to play in improving the quality of life in Massachusetts, the nation and the world, she told the crowd of more than 300 people packed into the Four Seasons Hotel ballroom in Boston Wednesday morning.

Hockfield was welcomed by chamber President Paul Guzzi and introduced by Dr. James J. Mongan, president and CEO of Partners HealthCare, who is chairman of the chamber's board. The chamber has been an active advocate in Washington on behalf of federal support for research and higher education.

Universities are "magnets for creative businesses," Hockfield said, but "collaboration across intellectual and institutional boundaries will be a condition for success in the next phase of the innovation economy."

She said the nation faces three key challenges to its economic competitiveness: a crisis in public education that is leaving too many K-12 students illiterate in math and science; a long-term decline in federal investment in research and development; and challenges to the openness of American higher education to students from lower and middle income groups and from other countries.

Closer to home, Hockfield pointed out two crucial problems for Greater Boston: the high cost of housing and the difficulty of making business investments, exemplified by the permitting process.

"Other states and local regions are working more aggressively than we are to retain existing knowledge-based industries, and to build new ones," she said. "We need a collective commitment to address such crucial regional issues."

Hockfield asked the leaders in the audience to "think creatively about how we can best work together to sustain the innovation economy by transferring the fruits of university research to society."

MIT has played a critical role in "catalyzing the technological innovation that fuels economic growth," she said, pointing to the thousands of companies founded by MIT graduates, faculty and students over the years. Pointing to the tremendous opportunities in areas such as energy, and in the convergence of the life sciences and engineering, she said that the challenge is to continue to harness the ideas born here for the benefit of the world.

"My own hope is that the academy, industry and our public officials can continue to work together to make this area the nation's best environment in which to innovate," she said.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on September 21, 2005 (download PDF).

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