Meeting the challenge of change: the Technopol Programme in Lower Austria
A partnership for technological research and innovation that drives business and regional development.
The beginning of the last century saw great experimentation and invention in the city of Wiener Neustadt (pop.: 35 000). In 1900, Ferdinand Porsche the "Father of VW" built his first car and this Lohner-Porsche made its debut at the Paris World Fair. Then, in April 1910, Austrian aviation was born when Karl Illner made a first flight in a plane designed by Igo Etrich. Now, some 100 years later, similar capacities have re-emerged very strongly in the research and innovation led by the Technopol Wiener Neustadt.
In the intervening years, the Second World War destroyed the industrial base of Wiener Neustadt and it became more noted for its shops and its educational facilities. Later, in the mid-80s, recession began to bite and this forced a reassessment of the economic policies of the Land of Lower Austria. As a result, the city was designated the "Area Capital" for research and technology. This, in turn, led to the establishing of regional innovation centres, a technology centre and the Wiener Neustadt University of Applied Sciences.
There followed a series of concerted efforts on the part of these new institutions that highlighted the vital importance of research and technology. Some of these promising developments had been supported by the EU, and their combined impact resulted in a decision, in 2004, to establish the Technopol Programme and the Technopol Wiener Neustadt. Now, in 2006, in addition to the University of Applied Sciences, the Technopol houses competence centres, research facilities and industrial firms and it also offers opportunities for other businesses to resettle on its “campus”.
The project in action
The main partners are key actors representing science, industry, economic development and public organisations. The public organisations include the Lower Austrian Government’s Department of Economy, the Chamber of Commerce, the Regional Business Agency entitled ecoplus and a local Public Company called TecNet Capital. Scientific partners come from universities and they organise the centres of competence that have on-going contact with their associated industries. The Austrian Research Centre of Seibersdorf is also another important scientific partner.
The Technopol Programme focuses on three major fields of research - functional surface technology, micro-systems technology and medical systems technology. Firms benefit from active technology transfer involving research and the industrial application of its findings. Currently, there are approximately 25 major companies involved with the programme such as Diamond Aircraft, Berndorf and Hirtenberger, whilst SMEs are also well represented. There is intense cooperation between the research institutions and the industrial partners from Austria together with international companies such as Siemens and Bosch.
In the last few years, an additional 350 employees have been recruited by the scientific partners that are associated with the Technopol. Employment in the industrial sector is also growing. For example, the Diamond Aircraft Company that builds small planes with innovatively designed engines has increased its workforce from 150 to over 500 employees, as a result of technological support from the Technopol Programme and assistance from ecoplus and the Department of Economy.
The Technopol Programme and the Technopol Wiener Neustadt are well known in Europe and now their work in smaller fields like electrochemical treatment of surfaces, tribology and powder injection molding is gaining a growing reputation in the USA. The programme has also taken its first step into the health sector with an ambitious project on behalf of the Austrian Cancer Research Centre for Ion Therapy (www.medaustron.at).
Ewald Babka, the Techopol Manager believes that “our concept can be easily transferred to other EU regions.” However, he stresses that this requires, “individuals who are willing to change things, to demonstrate to others the major challenges, to make ambitious plans and to work in cooperation with the regional government to realise the essential elements of these plans.”