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Innovation Center coming together

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Kevin Hoffman
January 27, 2011
— Wisconsin is "open for business," according to Gov. Scott Walker, and Whitewater hopes young entrepreneurs and startup businesses will turn to its Innovation Center for a boost.

The Innovation Center is the first building to spring up at Whitewater University Technology Park. The building is more than 60 percent full, and city officials are confident more tenants will jump on board in the next few months.


The center is meant to serve as a business incubator for entrepreneurs beginning a new venture. City Manager Kevin Brunner said it provides support typically not provided with rented office space, including a receptionist, conference rooms and other infrastructure to aid small firms.


The center is mostly completed, with the exception of minor detailing and a 2,500-square-foot unfinished room reserved for UW-Whitewater research. Brunner said he's hoping to schedule a grand opening sometime in late March.


"This is what it's all about," Brunner said, referring to President Barack Obama's call in his State of the Union speech Tuesday for business growth and innovation, "creating an environment with the support for small businesses to grow, and then have them go to other buildings in the park."


The Innovation Center is the park's first structure, but plans are to go further. Brunner said once the building is finished, he hopes to have the park's infrastructure in place by June. He then plans to work on filling vacant space in the Innovation Center before thinking about the next project.


That could be an "accelerator building" for mature businesses that need additional space, or those moving from the Innovation Center.


Cooperative Educational Service Agency 2, based in Milton, was the center's first and largest tenant. It signed a 10-year lease and occupies roughly 30 percent of available space. It will have about 30 employees there full-time.


CESA2 supports 74 school districts in southern Wisconsin. Brunner said it wanted to be centrally located among the districts it serves and closer to the university.


Jefferson Eastern Dane Interactive Network, a distance-learning organization, also is relocating to Whitewater.


Brunner said about 13 rooms, ranging from 550 to more than 700 square feet, remain available.


UW-Whitewater is the latest to reserve space, occupying a large sector of the building for research.


Denise Ehlen, director of research and sponsored programs at the university, said faculty and students would use the facility for contracted research for companies or other research that could lead to the creation of new businesses, technology or opportunities.


"This is sort of some of the talent and expertise that we can bring to the table, and that aligns with the city's expertise," Ehlen said. "I think it's sort of this physical manifestation of the kind of culture we're trying to support in the community."


Gary Lengyel, a UW-Whitewater employee, was named the interim manager of the Innovation Center. The Community Development Authority owns the building, but a Technology Park Board will oversee development.


Brunner said the university likely will provide management and IT services.


The Innovation Center, combined with the Technology Park's infrastructure and an extension of Starin Road, will cost about $11 million, Brunner added.


The park last year was awarded a $4.7 million federal economic development grant, and the rest of the funds will come from the Whitewater Community Development Authority, revenue bonding and other sources.


The city plans to decrease operational costs of the building with green technology. It was built with geothermal heating and cooling systems and 20-kilowatt solar panels on the roof.


Grants from WE Energies and Focus on Energy paid for about two-thirds of the $158,000 solar panels.



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