WMU News

Information technology firm commits to BTR Park

March 23, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- Another growing high-tech company has committed to making Kalamazoo its permanent home by becoming a resident partner in Western Michigan University's Business Technology and Research Park.

University officials have reached an agreement with information systems developer Granite Solutions to become part of the BTR Park, which is located on WMU's Parkview Campus. The Portage company will purchase a three-and-a-half to five-acre parcel on Campus Drive along Parkview Avenue. Acting at its March 22 meeting, the University's Board of Trustees approved execution of a purchase option agreement with the company that will make the transaction possible. The construction timetable and building details have not been finalized, but Granite Solutions plans to relocate to the park in 2003.

Bob Miller, associate vice president for community outreach at WMU, praised the 30-person firm for its commitment to the region. "Here's a growing company that's been leasing office space in Portage," he notes. "They could have taken their business anywhere in the world, but they've decided to buy land in the city of Kalamazoo and assume a permanent spot on the tax rolls. Granite Solutions is an excellent fit for the BTR Park in terms of academic collaboration and this project's economic development mission. And as a leader in the software development industry, they dovetail nicely with our focus areas of advanced engineering, information technology and the life sciences."

Granite Solutions designs high-tech business solutions and wide area networking systems for organizations nationwide, with projects domestically and in Europe. Its clients include Dura Automotive Systems, Landscape Forms, Rockwell International and BDO Seidman. According to Granite Solutions CEO Dan Blackledge, leaders of the company did toy with the possibility of moving their headquarters to Ann Arbor or Chicago. The quality of life in Kalamazoo coupled with the firm's growing relationships with WMU and the economic development agency Southwest Michigan First were deciding factors, he reports.

"We have made a firm, deliberate decision to stay in Kalamazoo. We're moving forward with world-class and worldwide partners like AT&T, Microsoft and WMU," says Blackledge, who expects his company to maintain its current 60- to 100-percent growth rate in coming years. "We intend to stay on the cutting edge of information technology, and access to the university's high-caliber faculty and students will help us do that. We will help them stay on the cutting edge, too, by providing real-world examples and access to our projects."

The 6-year-old company's ties to the University run deep. Its president, Matthew Mace, was still a Lee Honors College student at WMU when he co-founded the company, and a third of Granite Solutions' other employees are also alumni. Blackledge says his firm intends to continue and expand a host of current collaborations with WMU faculty members. The company recently donated a Computer Certification Library to the Haworth College of Business, and it offers scholarships to computer information systems majors who want to get certified in a program or language. Last month, Blackledge served as a Professor of the Day in the business college, and Haworth Dean James W. Schmotter has consulted with the company's top management on leadership development. In addition, Granite Solutions officials have discussed research and development partnerships with the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, which will relocate to the Parkview Campus when construction on its new facility is completed next year.

"If we come up with some new, totally unproven idea after talking with a client, it's going to be a huge benefit to us to be able to walk across the parkway, sit down with a faculty member and say, 'hey, what do you think about this--is it possible?'" Blackledge predicts. "For example, practically every business in the country is looking at how they can develop and benefit from wireless technology, which is something the University has leading-edge experience with. The possibilities for partnership are astounding. And we're already acclimating our team members to the idea that they'll be part of WMU, too, whether that means speaking to classes, working with interns or collaborating on client research and development problem solving."

The 265-acre Parkview Campus and 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, which last year was designated as a Michigan SmartZone, includes development space for high-technology firms. Tenants already announced include Richard-Allan Scientific Inc., a life-science firm; Fluid Process Equipment Inc., an engineering company that specializes in fluid handling systems; and engineering, scientific and architectural firm Fishbeck, Thompson, Carr & Huber Inc. Southwest Michigan First has announced it will build a business incubator--the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center--at the park. In recent months, four additional life sciences firms--Esperion Therapeutics, NephRx Corp., NanoMed Pharmaceuticals and Comprehensive Toxicology Services Management--have announced commitments to the center and the park.

Media contact: Jessica English, 269 387-8400, jessica.english@wmich.edu

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