by Bill Jabjiniak, Economic Development Director, City of Mesa
A few years ago the City of Mesa began using the phrase “Turning up the HEAT in Mesa” to clearly define and promote Mesa’s industries of opportunity: Healthcare; Education; Aerospace/Aviation; and Tourism. Mesa’s City Council has focused heavily on progressive economic development practices to enhance these established sectors in Mesa with an emphasis on retention and expansion, as well as a renewed commitment to attracting additional assets.
The “E” in HEAT represents higher education and attracting additional post-secondary institutions is a top priority for Mesa’s City Council. The Office of Economic Development is responsible for implementing a recruitment plan for this strategic initiative, the long-term goal being to provide a skilled, trained and educated workforce to businesses and become a 21st Century City of Innovation.
Two years ago, the Office of Economic Development conducted research to fine tune the focus and ensure that the pursuit of enhancing higher education would be successful. Results from the Market Analysis and Feasibility Study revealed there was strong sentiment and support in the community from business leaders, residents and other academic institutions to recruit additional higher education resources beyond what was already in Mesa. In particular, people wanted private-sector, traditional four-year institutions (or graduate programs) that provided unique and complimentary programs to existing institutions. There was also a desire to recruit universities that centered on liberal arts education or niche-based programming such as engineering or technology. Community members expressed interest in colleges that offered diverse student populations, ranked nationally for quality education and expanded recently nationally and/or internationally for campus development.
In March 2011, the City of Mesa issued a Request For Interest and Information (RFI) inviting post-secondary institutions to expand to Mesa and become a part of our City’s vision – with specific development opportunities in Downtown Mesa. The RFI explained the goal to create a downtown campus of higher learning consisting of three to five colleges or universities with four-year and/or graduate degree programs aligned with Mesa target markets of Healthcare, Education, Aerospace/Aviation and Tourism.
Since that time, the City has hosted more than 15 prospective universities for community visits. Active participants in Mesa’s economic development efforts included Mesa Community College, Mesa Public Schools, Mesa Chamber of Commerce, AT Still University, members of the Economic Development Advisory Board and many more stakeholders. Already results are being realized.
Benedictine University (www.ben.edu) announced in January, 2012, plans to open its first branch campus in the US outside of Illinois in fall of 2013. Celebrating its 125th year, Benedictine has multiple campuses and more than 40 class sites including China and Vietnam. More accolades:
- Forbes magazine has named Benedictine University among the top 20 percent of America’s colleges for 2011.
- The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked Benedictine University as the seventh-fastest growing campus in the country among private Master’s universities between 2004-2009.
- U.S. News & World Report recognized Benedictine University as eighth in Illinois for highest average freshman retention rate for Master’s Universities in the Midwest for 2011.
- Benedictine University is ranked 12th in the Midwest and sixth in Illinois for Racial Diversity among Master’s Universities in the Midwest for 2011 by U.S. News & World Report.
The City of Mesa is proud to call Benedictine University our partner and looks forward to assisting Benedictine in their growth and development in Downtown Mesa.
In future blogs, we’ll let you know how higher education in Mesa is a win-win for both the city and the institution locating here along with more HEAT developments in Mesa.
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