Champaign-Urbana was founded on the principle that visionary choices create future opportunities. We are game changers and innovators, and we were thinking outside the box before most people realized the box existed. We push boundaries and we invent, we are artists and we are creators. When the Illinois Central Railroad built tracks through what would become Champaign-Urbana, some of the very first people to make this community their home were entrepreneurs. In 1858, with a population of only 3,358 — we were already home to over 30 local businesses.
Our innovative, can-do spirit has stayed with us. In 1985, Bob Dylan stood on stage at a Live Aid concert and said, “Wouldn’t it be great if we did something for our own farmers right here in America?” and six weeks later the very first Farm Aid concert was held right here in Champaign before an audience of 80,000 people. That first concert raised over $9 million for America’s family farmers and launched one of the most recognized music festivals in America. We are a community founded on vision and action — that is who we are, and that is why we thrive. It is that history that we must consider, those founding principles that we must remember, as we consider the construction of an innovative new medical school right here in Champaign-Urbana.
We have always chosen vision and action. In the 1980’s and 1990’s — the City of Champaign partnered with a variety of public and private groups from CUMTD to One Main Development to revitalize our downtown the right way. Now we enjoy deliciously prepared, locally-sourced meals, an abundance of local musical talent, a world-renowned film festival, and top tier dance and arts performances. The Illinois Terminal, M1 and M2, and the new Hyatt Place hotel — our downtown is full of examples of carefully planned, meaningful growth fostered by public-private partnerships.
We are already a hub for science and technology. In 1999, when the University’s Board of Trustees approved Research Park, we knew we had something remarkable. Now, Research Park boasts 35 tenants (including 7 Fortune 500 companies) who employ over 700 people across 5 buildings. This unique environment encourages nimble young start-ups to collaborate with established multi-national corporations, creates the kinds of partnerships that accelerate progress, and provides local students with meaningful internship opportunities. Champaign-Urbana is a key hub of the “Silicon Prairie,” and our researchers and inventors build opportunities every day. We are home to the University of Illinois and Parkland College, and we have created a public school system that boasts a STEM Academy, Leadership & MicroSociety Magnet School, and International Prep Academy among other achievements. A review of our history shows that this is a community defined by the belief that visionary, talented, and proactive groups must come together and commit themselves to accomplishing extraordinary results. That is what our new medical school is all about.
In 2005, a business concept called Blue Ocean Strategy entered the popular conscience. Blue Ocean Strategy says that the best market spaces are those that do not yet exist — but should. These are visionary, innovative, game changing pursuits. Creating those markets also creates demand — demand that is uncontested and leads to profitable and rapid growth. In a Blue Ocean market, competition does not yet exist, and the rules of the game are decided by those who create the market. It is the kind of thinking that has always powered this community, and that must power this community in the decades to come.
Today we stand at the crossroads with a decision to make. This decision will set us apart as a community, as a region, and as a state. It is a true Blue Ocean opportunity — and ours for the taking. Chancellor Phyllis Wise and Jim Leonard, CEO of Carle Foundation Hospital, are laying the groundwork so we may become a center for healthcare innovation. Our new medical school will be the first engineering and technology based school in the country. Our pioneering efforts will improve the health and economic wellbeing of our community and provide outstanding clinical care and a world class medical education. Our local researchers would bring in millions of National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant dollars to our community, and their work would transform healthcare delivery. Along with crucial humanitarian benefits, it is also estimated that by 2035 the statewide economic impact of our medical school will exceed $1 billion annually and sustain more than 7,600 jobs.
The opportunity presented by this medical school is the kind of opportunity that has shaped this community from the start. This choice is our generation’s railroad — our Research Park — our opportunity to shape this place for those who will come after us. The choices we make now and the urgency with which we pursue this prospect will define our future and our children’s futures. Opportunity does not wait. Just as our predecessors chose to act when it was their turn to shape this community, now it is our turn to make an important choice. We must come together immediately in support of our new medical school. Individual residents along with the Economic Development Corporation, Chamber of Commerce, Convention and Visitors Bureau, cities of Champaign, Urbana, and Savoy, and Champaign County must lead the charge. Contact your legislators and the University’s Board of Trustees — tell them we support this new school.
Contact information for legislators may be found here. Contact information for University Board of Trustees members may be found here. Read the consultant study on the medical center here. We cannot be the generation that let opportunity pass us by. We must be the keepers of the entrepreneurial spirit. We must make the decisions that will echo through the history of this great community. We must act now.