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June 12, 1998

A recent study found that 90 percent of industry participants benefitted in some way by participating in the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Engineering Research Center (ERC) Program. Nearly a quarter of all firms reported having developed a new product or process as a result of their interaction with an ERC, and two-thirds reported that their firm's competitiveness had increased.

Industry participants reported five main benefits: access to new ideas, know-how, or technologies; technical assistance; interaction with other firms participating in the program; access to ERC equipment and facilities; and, hiring ERC students and graduates.

Not all companies received every type of benefit, but of the benefits realized by particular companies, among the highest-valued were the employment of ERC students and graduates, gains in intellectual property, and access to specialized equipment and facilities.

The study indicated that company benefit is directly related to the length and level of active involvement in a center. The longer a firm participates and the more direct personal interaction there is between corporate and center personnel, the more direct benefits the firm will have received and the greater the effect on company competitiveness. The study found that 80 percent of the firms that had been involved with an ERC for eight to ten years reported that their firm's competitiveness had increased due to its involvement with an ERC.

Overall, the study found that the ERC Program was impacting industry as it was originally designed to do. A majority of respondents indicated that their ERC involvement had influenced their firm's research agenda. Corporate personnel in firms hiring ERC students or graduates rated these employees as more productive and effective engineers than peers in the same firm..

In 1994, NSF's Engineering Education and Centers Division initiated a two-part study to examine the extent to which the ERC program is making progress towards its goals. The results of those studies have been summarized in an NSF publication entitled "The Engineering Research Centers Program: An Assessment of Benefits and Outcomes."

The ERC Program was created in 1985 to develop a government-industry-university partnership to strengthen the competitive position of U.S. firms in world trade and change the culture of engineering research and education in the U.S. A copy of "The Engineering Research Centers Program: An Assessment of Benefits and Outcomes" (NSF publication No. 98-40) can be found on the web at http://www.nsf.gov/pubs/1998/nsf9840/ nsf9840.htm.