WMU News

Civil engineering firm building at BTR Park

Sept. 6, 2005

KALAMAZOO--A civil engineering firm with a long track record on building projects across southwest Michigan is set to break ground on its new facility at Western Michigan University's Business Technology and Research Park, becoming the 28th firm to locate at the park.

SME--Soil and Materials Engineering Inc.--a Plymouth, Mich.-based firm with offices across Michigan and in northern Ohio, will begin work on a 10,000-square-foot facility on the park's Tech Circle in early September. Building plans include provisions for 15,000 square feet of additional space that can be added to the facility to accommodate expected company growth. Delta Design of Kalamazoo has been selected as the builder.

The company, which also has a growing international client base, is planning for completion of the building in early 2006. The site will then become home to 16 full-time and 25 seasonal employees, whose expertise includes geoscience, materials science and envrionmental engineering. The new facility will include office space as well as laboratories for work on soil, concrete and materials.

SME has had offices in southwest Michigan for 20 years and has worked closely with several of the firms already located in the BTR Park, says Timothy J. Mitchell, SME's regional manager. The concept of the private sector firms in the park working in partnership with the University and with each other, he says, was "an important influence in our decision to locate to the BTR Park."

"We always try to be at the cutting edge of the industry, and we have a long history of working with the University and with communities and businesses throughout southwest Michigan," Mitchell says. "We see this as a growth opportunity, a way to enhance our partnership with the University and a way to develop relationships with students and faculty members."

Mitchell points to a new WMU lab, opened last year in partnership with the Michigan Department of Transportation, and the work being done there as a good example of one area in which he expects to see strong ties develop. SME currently is under contract with MDOT for asphalt testing across the southwest Michigan region.

Bob Miller is WMU's associate vice president for community outreach and point person on the BTR Park development. He worked closely with SME, its representative Plante Moran and with Delta Design to complete the agreement. As is always the case when companies express an interest in the park, he put company principals in touch with relevant academic units at the University to determine if there's a good match between the company's goals and the University's mission. The meetings between SME executives and WMU's civil engineering faculty drew rave reviews, he says.

"There was an instant connection between the department and SME," Miller says, noting that WMU's civil engineering program is among the University's newest, and department leaders are excited about the synergy developing in the park with several top-flight firms in that discipline in residence.

"Over the years, SME has demonstrated an amazing commitment to working with students through internships and co-op arrangements," says Dr. Osama Abudayyeh, chairperson of WMU's Department of Civil and Construction Engineering. "We're absolutely delighted that they will be nearby and able to work with our students and faculty. Even as they were doing site evaluations for their new building here at the park, they contacted us to let us know they'd love to have students come out and see how they work."

SME hires about 50 interns per year and offers an innovative student co-op program for which Mitchell would like to see more WMU students to apply. He sees such student opportunities as having a positive benefit not only for the University and his company, but for the state as well.

"Getting kids into a Michigan firm like ours as co-op students or interns gets them thinking about the state as a good place to work," he notes.

SME began in the Detroit area and has such high-profile projects like the Renaissance Center and People Mover in its portfolio. Over the years, SME has been involved in such WMU construction projects as the BTR Park, Haenicke Hall, Waldo Library and the new College of Health and Human Services facility. Last spring, SME completed geochemical analyses for the sites of the new chemistry building and the Richmond Visual Arts Center. In Kalamazoo, the company has been involved in the City Center and the Kalamazoo Transportation Center as well as the Rave Theater and Ramp 3 projects. Stauffers Hotel and Denso in Battle Creek, Mich., are also among projects in its portfolio.

WMU's Business Technology and Research Park shares the University's 265-acre Parkview Campus with the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Launched in 1999, the park is home to companies in the fields of advanced engineering, information technology and life sciences. The park is one of 11 sites around Michigan designated as a SmartZone by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. Information is available at www.wmich.edu/btr.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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