Local officials involved in the Baylor Research and Innovation Collaborative (BRIC) say Dr. Truell Hyde, 53, Baylor University’s vice provost for research, is the man with the vision for this ambitious collaboration involving Baylor, Texas State Technical College-Waco, McLennan Community College, Waco, Bellmead and McLennan County.
Last week, Hyde discussed the project with members of the Tribune-Herald staff, including public affairs writer J.B. Smith, business editor Mike Copeland and higher education writer Tim Woods. Below is an abridged version of their conversation.
Q Some residents probably have trouble wrapping their brains around all this. How will this consortium affect their lives?
A Primarily through the economic impact of it all. It’s going to almost immediately provide new opportunities for Baylor and Texas State Technical College because, as part of this, we’re putting into place a doctorate in engineering. And, of course, TSTC will continue to do the wonderful job it’s done for years. So this will provide more opportunities for the students in the Waco Independent School District and Midway and all the rest to stay at home (in Waco) and get a world-class education here in areas that currently they haven’t been able to get. The other part is that, whatever types of initiatives take hold, they’ll impact economic development of our region. Ever since he came here, Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce President Jim Vaughan has done a great job of hiring very aggressive young people who have gone out and looked all over the United States and the world, trying to bring high-tech businesses to Waco. We look for that here because such businesses usually pay more in taxes and offer good salary opportunities, something we all want to see. But we’ve been at a bit of a disadvantage as a city because when those companies come in, one of the first things they usually ask is, “Where’s my wet lab space” or “Where’s my dry lab space?” That’s jargon for high-tech space, labs set up to do research and development, manufacturing or chemical. We’ve just not had that available.
Q How long have you had this vision and how has it evolved over the years?
A When I first took the post as vice provost for research in 2001, one thing coming from our vision in Baylor 2012 was to try to determine the resources that would allow us to build the infrastructure so our faculty could be successful. We have a lot of great, young faculty and we have kids who are world-class, yet we haven’t done a whole lot in terms of reaching out to regional industrial concerns. I started thinking about how it would be really nice if we could figure out some way to merge industry and workforce development and research development in one place so that you have a critical mass. The result will hopefully be larger than the sum of the parts. So I established the Baylor Advanced Research Institute and got that approved by the board of regents. It finds ways for faculty to interact with local or regional or even world industry. Then I went out and hired Jim Kephart, program manager for the SOFIA Project at L-3. Jim’s very good at juggling both academic and industry aspects. I basically tasked him with talking to all the local industries. And so he started down that path.
Q How did you come into this massive General Tire building?
A I had gone so far as to have some preliminary plans drawn up for a possible building with John Lilley, who was president at the time. He got to talking with civic leader Clifton Robinson about the project and Clifton said, “Well, I might have a building for you.” And so we went out and started looking at this building, 300,000 square feet, just enormous. If you look at our needs for office space, lab space, classroom space, conference space, the General Tire building would be exactly that same size. Plus it was a heavy manufacturing facility so the foundation is exactly what you require for a science building because the people in science buildings are very finicky about vibrations, isolation, all those things. That’s why they’re very expensive to build.
Q Were there any specific models for a research and development park that you used?
A Well, there’s all the normal ones — the Research Triangle in North Carolina, for instance — but, to tell you the truth, we’re building something that’s unique. We’ll have research and development, we’ll have industry support, and we’re going to have a business mall in it with the school of business offering assistance in the way of marketing research, business plans and what we call angel investment, which involves investors who jump into these things. But what most university research parks don’t have is the option of advanced workforce development such as the type that we can get through MCC or TSTC. We’ll have advanced workforce training that we can get through TSTC.
Q Are you working with existing businesses in Waco like L-3 and Allergan?
A We’ve been talking to many of the local and regional industries. I can’t really talk about it right now, but we’ve gotten a lot of industries interested in putting some sort of development in this.
Q Would you ultimately try to get government funding for research? I know Sematech started off with a big contract from the federal government.
A Yeah, that’s a different model, but the short answer is certainly. I mean, we have $10 million for phase one coming from the state, so we’ve already got state funding. And we currently have several faculty plus a new faculty chair in our electrical engineering department who have programs already funded by the federal government through the National Science Foundation or National Institutes of Health or other gold-standard federally funded reviews. And the Interdisciplinary Research Center that we’re bringing in is already bringing in research funded at the federal level. I’ve also been talking with U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Waco, about this, since back when everyone else thought I was crazy. He’s certainly behind it and has been very supportive, as he always is with Baylor.
Q Will this initiative make it easier to bring in NSF and NIH dollars, and in greater amounts than we’ve seen already?
A Absolutely. In terms of the school of engineering, for example — electrical engineering, which will be the first department where we’ll pursue a Ph.D — they’re so completely out of actual space that when they hire new faculty, they don’t even know where to put their labs. So this will provide new faculty with world-class lab space, and existing faculty with space as well. Obviously that helps when you go out and pursue funding because (laughing) you actually got some place to do the research when you do get the funding.
Q With many other research parks across the nation, what will make Baylor, TSTC and Waco stand out? How are you going to be successful in ways that others have not?
A Well, one reason towns want research parks is because they’re economic drivers. But I don’t even worry about that, to tell you the truth. Maybe I should. But I don’t worry about that for a couple of reasons. First, Baylor has just never had that kind of problem. You know, we’re a great university and will continue to be a great university. We’re only going to get better. I sit in on a lot of hiring and I’m telling you the caliber of faculty that we have hired forever and ever has been very good, and it’s only getting better. The other great thing is that we have TSTC-Waco in the picture. I think a lot of people have no clue of what TSTC-Waco really is in terms of the impact it has all over the world. That school puts out students who routinely work for the national labs and compete with the best in the world. They end up working with the best equipment, the best faculty in the world, the best senior research scientists in the world. I feel very comfortable that, given the combination of Baylor, TSTC and MCC, we’ve got some pretty good aces.