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Nebraska Innovation Campus celebrates grand opening with community members

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Nebraska Innovation Campus (NIC) on Thursday hosted a grand opening for the facility’s conference center. It’s the first section of Innovation Campus to be open and used by the public.

“I think it’s the first step toward getting a lot of the space open,” said Dan Duncan, NIC’s executive director. “There’s a lot of excitement in being able to interact with people and have them come into the facility.”

The event featured tours of the 50,000 square-foot conference center, showcasing its state-of-the-art auditorium, banquet area and breakout rooms.

As an homage to its historic location — Innovation Campus is being built on the former grounds of the Nebraska State Fair — the conference center features original elements like brick walls, iron ceiling beams and wooden doors while adding the necessary technological and modern touches.

Innovation Campus, located adjacent to UNL, will leverage the university’s research strengths in areas related to food, fuel and water — areas that are also critical to Nebraska. The proximity to UNL is key to the success of Innovation Campus, which will bring faculty, students and private-sector leaders together on research, education and other efforts. Innovation Campus will provide new opportunities for faculty to bring their research breakthroughs to the marketplace, and for students to pursue high-quality internships and jobs.

“We knew that we could find a way to create economic growth in the state of Nebraska by creating a place where private sector companies could come and engage with the university,” UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman said during the grand opening.

When completed, Innovation Campus will be a 2 million square-foot campus with up to 7,000 people working and collaborating in the uniquely designed buildings. The university already has its first private-sector partner at Innovation Campus: ConAgra Foods, a highly successful company based in Nebraska. UNL’s Department of Food Science and Technology also is preparing to relocate to Innovation Campus.

Duncan said the conference center has already been “heavily utilized” for events prior to the grand opening, including a UNL faculty retreat, and he’s looking forward to hosting many events in the future.

“This will be a facility that will be regarded as an amenity for the companies on Innovation Campus but also an amenity for this community and for the state of Nebraska.”