WMU News

WMU plays critical role in two Michigan SmartZones

April 11, 2001

KALAMAZOO -- The Western Michigan University Business Technology and Research Park was designated as one of Michigan's first SmartZones, putting the entire Kalamazoo area on the front line in the state's high-technology economic development efforts.

A proposal developed by WMU, the city of Kalamazoo and Southwest Michigan First, a local economic development agency, was one of 11 projects across the state to win the coveted designation that will provide tax advantages, access to loans and grants and marketing assistance for the BTR as well as linked sites on the WMU campus and at Kalamazoo Valley Community College. The Kalamazoo project will focus on creating jobs in the areas of life sciences, information technology and advanced product engineering.

Sabrina Keeley, chief operating officer of the Michigan Economic Development Corp., traveled to Kalamazoo for the April 11 SmartZone announcement on the WMU campus. Attending the announcement were about 100 Kalamazoo city officials, local business and economic leaders, area legislators and University officials.

Earlier in the day, a similar announcement was made in Battle Creek, conferring SmartZone status on an initiative developed by the cities of Battle Creek, Marshall and Springfield to combine that area's aviation, aerospace and automotive engineering strengths. WMU's College of Aviation plays a major role in that initiative.

"By designating SmartZones in both Battle Creek and Kalamazoo, the state recognizes the importance of creating a high technology corridor linking I-94 and U.S. 131 and the economic impact that can result," said WMU President Elson S. Floyd of the announcements. "We are excited about the role that our University will play in both SmartZones."

SmartZones, formerly known as Smart Parks, are intended to stimulate the growth of technology-based businesses by creating recognized clusters of technological businesses and research institutions throughout the state. The clusters are expected to promote the growth of Michigan's high-technology business base in the coming years.

The Kalamazoo and Battle Creek proposals were among 18 proposals received by the MEDC after the program was announced in 1999. The state began accepting proposals for the program last July.

Other areas around the state that received SmartZone designations during April 11 announcements included projects in the Detroit area, Houghton, Mount Pleasant, Grand Rapids, Muskegon, Lansing and Washtenaw County.

The Kalamazoo project designated as a SmartZone is designed as a technology corridor anchored in WMU's new Business Technology and Research Park and extending to Kalamazoo Valley Community College's Groves development. The Groves development is anchored by Dana Corp., Bronson Lifestyle Facility, the Michigan Technical Education Center and a high-tech incubator.

The BTR, which already is under construction and has two commitments from area firms, will include a business incubator as well as space and services tailored to meet the needs of high-technology firms. Currently serving as a life sciences incubator for the project is the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center, temporarily located in laboratory space in WMU's McCracken Hall.

The 265-acre BTR development, located at the intersection of Parkview Avenue and Drake Road, will be home to WMU's College of Engineering and Applied Sciences and a paper and printing science research facility, which is currently under construction. The park will include development space for high-technology firms.

In March, work began on a facility for Richard-Allan Scientific Inc., a Kalamazoo life-science firm and the BTR's first tenant. Early in April, the BTR's second tenant was announced. Fluid Process Equipment Inc., a Kalamazoo engineering firm that specializes in fluid handling systems, will begin construction of its facility later this spring.

The Battle Creek SmartZone will focus on aviation and aerospace research and technology as well as automotive manufacturing. That project will include three separate geographic areas that fall within the SmartZone designation. One encompasses the W.K. Kellogg Airport, home of WMU's College of Aviation and the major contributor to aviation-related growth and research in the area.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 616 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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