A June 4 forum at Northwestern University, presented by NU’s Office of Neighborhood and Community Relations, focused on what panelists called the “symbiotic” relationship between NU and Evanston.

“Strengthening the Evanston Economy” featured Mayor Stephen Hagerty; State Representative Robyn Gabel; Northwestern Vice President for Research Jay Walsh; and Hayes Ferguson, Associate Director of NU’s business incubator, The Garage. Michele Rogers, Assistant Professor of Clinical Executive Education at the Kellogg School of Management, moderated the panel.

Northwestern President Morton Schapiro gave opening remarks. Mr. Walsh discussed Northwestern’s economic impact, especially on the City. He noted the University brings in about $700 million in research; some of those dollars, he added, sometimes stay in Evanston, should students keep a business developed at the University in the City.

Mr. Walsh also noted that each NU department annually hosts a seminar series that brings in outside visitors and that about 65,000 students annually visit the campus and spend money in the City. Additionally, he added, NU spends about $44 million on Evanston vendors.

“There’s a tremendous amount of symbiosis,” he said.

Mayor Hagerty addressed the need for both the City and the University to best leverage their assets together, focusing at length on the City’s infrastructure.

“The reality is [that] our infrastructure is deteriorating,” he said. “ … How do we make sure that the Purple Line doesn’t become the High Line [an elevated park on unused train tracks in New York City] 40 years from now?”

Mayor Hagerty added that NU needs to have a hand in lobbying for “the integrity of our infrastructure and the Purple Line especially. … Evanston is only as strong as Northwestern, and Northwestern is only as strong as Evanston.”

“The transportation is vital for our students and staff,” said Mr. Walsh.

Rep. Gabel noted that, with the recent passage of Illinois’ first capital bill in a decade, “There are quite a few [requests for proposals] that the City can bid on.”

Panelists also discussed NU’s efforts to engage with local businesses through student programs, as well as the shortage of space for businesses to incubate at the University.

“There is more demand than supply vis-a-vis space,” said Ms. Ferguson.

   “Our faculty wants the companies in Evanston – the challenge is finding the space for them,” added Mr. Walsh.

Mayor Hagerty also said that he would like to see Northwestern’s Wildcard available for use off campus: “Eight thousand students are a huge economic engine.”

He further noted that having NU in the City provides Evanston with an economic advantage not enjoyed by many cities.

“Our major employer is the University,” Mayor Hagerty said. “That’s better stability than a huge commercial company.”