WMU to break ground on economic-development engine

Contact: Tony Proudfoot

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—The region's newest job and business development initiative is slated to help kick off 2019. Western Michigan University will begin development of the Business Technology and Research Park 2—BTR 2—in the next few months thanks to a $2.1 million grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The grant will help pay for site development in the form of roads and utilities.

Aerial photo of WMU Business Technology and Research Park.

WMU Business Technology and Research Park

The new complex is expected to attract and incubate new businesses as well as establish University, regional business and community partnerships, says Bob Miller, associate vice president for community outreach. It also will support research, economic development and new student opportunities.

"The Western Michigan University Business Technology and Research Park has been, and will continue to be, a partnership among the municipalities," Miller says. "The city of Kalamazoo, and now Oshtemo Township, Southwest Michigan First, and the University are working together to add to the tax base, increase jobs, and offer opportunities for students and faculty."

The new venture continues the success of WMU's Business Technology and Research Park 1, a 256-acre complex with similar goals. BTR 1 is home to approximately 40 companies that provide more than 850 jobs. The park and its businesses have added close to $10 million in tax revenue for the city of Kalamazoo. Since its inception, BTR 1 also has provided hundreds of internships for WMU students and counts 100 alumni among its employees.

The development of BTR 2 emerges as the property in BTR 1 is full with current and committed businesses. It will be located across the street from BTR 1 on a 55-acre parcel west of Drake Road and east of U.S. 131. Initial site work will go out for bid in early 2019, with work expected to begin at some point in the first quarter.

Community partnerships

The groundbreaking for BTR 2 follows more than three years of community engagement and partnership. Oshtemo Township has played a critical role in advancing BTR 2 by sharing the cost of the site design that led to the grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, or EDA.

"Oshtemo Township is excited to partner with Western Michigan University on the next phase of the Business Technology and Research Park, as it represents new opportunities for innovation and economic development in the township and the Kalamazoo region," says Julie Johnston, the township's planning director. 

Southwest Michigan First has been key to the success of BTR since its inception.

"One of the things I am most proud of is our partnership with Western Michigan University through the BTR Park," says Ron Kitchens, president of Southwest Michigan First and a WMU trustee.

"It is one of the most successful university-based parks in the nation, and I have no doubt that phase 2 will be equally successful in both filling the park with jobs and creating incredible partnerships between the companies and the University."

The Road Commission of Kalamazoo County also has helped with the planning and has been a partner in the development. The main road providing access to tenant properties in BTR 2 will be transferred to the road commission upon completion.

Conception of BTR 2 kicked off in 2015 and garnered extensive community input in 2016 and 2017. That input led to the design that was submitted to the EDA approximately a year ago. With the EDA grant secured, the project can now proceed.

Planning process and considerations

Planning for the park included a community advisory committee, discussions with the nearby neighborhoods and public comment solicited through social media as well as through a dedicated website. Input from these sessions led to design features that integrate the goals of the park with the natural features of the land.

As part of pursuing the development:

  • A bee colony on the site was relocated to ensure it would not be disturbed.
  • A rare orchid on the property will be preserved in a buffer zone.
  • The property was assessed to ensure nesting bats would not be disturbed.
  • Diseased apple trees will be eliminated on-site, and great care will be taken to ensure the illness does not spread.
  • The portion of the Asylum Lake Preserve that is near the property will be unaffected by the development due to a buffer zone that will include public access to such features as a boardwalk, observation platform, walking path and benches.
  • A buffer zone will be established to protect mature trees with trunks over six inches in diameter and create an oak savannah.
  • Native and low-mow turf seedlings will cover much of the green space.

The design and development will be conducted in a manner that would allow it to be designated Sustainable Sites Certified, also known as SITES. SITES is a comprehensive rating system for developing sustainable land. It focuses on designing with sustainable soils, landscapes and water management strategies. Learn more about SITES at sustainablesites.org.

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