How colleges can help reverse regional inequality

There’s perhaps no greater illustration of what a university can do to boost a region’s economy than the story of Madison, Wisconsin.

Until fairly recently, Madison’s reputation was that of a typical college town, better known for its livability, cheap bars, and music scene than as a hub for technology. Songkick named Madison one of the nation’s top 10 cities for live rock music, while USA Today ranked it fourth in its 2014 list of best bicycling towns for its 200 miles of trails. The number of bikes in the city in fact outnumber cars, which is one reason NerdWallet once crowned Madison the “greenest city in America.”

Now, Madison is in the running to be the next Silicon Valley, topping the list of potential candidates for the “growth centers” proposed by Brookings/ITIF.  Among its marquee employers is the medical records software giant Epic Systems, whose billionaire founder, Judy Faulkner, is number four on the Forbes’ 2019 list of America’s richest self-made women (ahead of Oprah, who is number ten). Madison is also home to Exact Sciences Corporation, maker of the Cologuard cancer screening test, as well as a burgeoning video game development industry with 70 independent studios.

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