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Postsecondary institutions help businesses with research, data collection

Posted on Jan 30, 2019 :: New North
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

When it comes to making large decisions, most businesses and organizations rely on data.

Leaders look at the information and determine which option is the best way forward. Gathering that data — and trying to make sense of it — is usually too much for businesses to take on by themselves. That’s where the services offered by two New North postsecondary institutions can make a difference.

St. Norbert College in De Pere and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh both provide businesses, municipalities and nonprofit organizations with a variety of data gathering and advising services to help leaders as they make decisions or to provide a shareable community snapshot.

St. Norbert has two offerings in place — the Center for Business & Economic Analysis (CBEA) and the Strategic Research Institute — that work with organizations to gather data and then make sense of it, while UW-Oshkosh has its Center for Customized Research and Services.

The specialized research conducted by the New North’s colleges and universities is a huge asset to businesses and organizations in the region, says New North Inc. Executive Director Jerry Murphy.

“Regional postsecondary institutions are a treasure trove of subject matter experts (faculty) that we’ve accessed for a variety of applications,” he says, adding New North has used programs at both schools to help with research and data collection. “Research work done by the region’s colleges and universities is one of the great secret weapons for use by businesses in the region.”

At St. Norbert, the Strategic Research Institute may be best known for the political polls it conducts during election years, but director Jamie Lynch says that’s just a small part of what the center can do.

“We really help organizations solve their data needs. For example, a nonprofit may want to measure a program’s impact. We can help them collect data that can help them make decisions,” Lynch says. “Or a business may come to us to do customer or employee satisfaction polls. They want someone to come in and get unbiased results.”

Lynch adds the institute also can work with organizations that have data in hand but are not sure what to do with it.

While the Strategic Research Institute has been around for a while, the college’s CBEA was created just a few years ago. CBEA Co-director Marc Schaffer says the organization was started to connect the college’s staff and faculty with the business community.

“It’s a great way we can share the knowledge and information at the college with the wider community,” he says. “We do a lot of economic development impact statements, site selection work and state of the economy reports for chambers or economic development organizations.”

Schaffer says small- and medium-sized businesses are looking for the information and analysis CBEA provides.

“Every project we do is different,” he says. “The demand for our services is high and our work definitely complements what (Lynch’s) organization does.”

While the name for UW-Oshkosh’s Center for Customized Research and Services is new, its concept — sharing the resources and expertise provided by faculty members with local businesses — has been around for decades, says Elizabeth Hartman, executive director of the university’s Office of Economic Development & Community Relations.

“We help businesses make data-informed decisions. We not only collect data, but we can then analyze it and then determine what other services from the university that the organization can tap into,” she says. “It’s all project-based work. Businesses come to us with a problem and we help them solve it.”

The center connects specialized expertise with the business community. “The center is a great way of showcasing the university’s expertise while also helping those who need it,” Hartman says.

Businesses and organizations are not the only ones that benefit from these on-campus services. Students also gain real-life experience in project management, data gathering and analysis, and consulting.

Schaffer says the CBEA uses students who work with a member of the faculty on research to determine what that information means, how it may solve any issues the organization is facing and then make the final presentation to the client.

“The students really come away with a lot of experience that provides them with an opportunity to be out in the business community while still in college,” he says. 

Hartman says the Center for Customized Research and Services also gets students involved. “Students are our main workforce source and they gain so much from being involved in the program.”