Western Michigan University will begin development on the second Business and Technology Research Park (BTR 2) in the coming months, after a $2.1 million dollar award from the U.S. Economic Development Administration.
All of the land at BTR 1 is occupied by existing businesses, and a second BTR park was only natural, said Bob Miller, associate vice president of Community Outreach.
“It’s been contemplated almost going back 10 years, that at some point that property would become the next phase of the BTR park. But it really began to become much more viable when we realized that BTR 1 was going to be filled in terms of the property, and then of course the successful application with the Economic Development Administration for a $2.1 million dollar grant.”
The grant will help defray infrastructure costs, such as putting in a road and utilities, said Miller.
The ideology behind BTR 2 is the same as the first iteration, though this park will be located in Oshtemo Township near Asylum Lake rather than in Kalamazoo.
“They (Oshtemo Township) want to see their tax base increase, they want to obviously recruit, retain and create jobs to the Township, which is what will happen in BTR 2,” Miller said.
Economic development group Southwest Michigan First also remains heavily involved in BTR 2’s business attraction process, said Miller.
“We have a severe shortage of viable industrial land in the region, so having this new property coming on the market is really helpful,” said Joe Agostinelli, a Southwest Michigan First partner.
The BTR park looks for “high technology,” businesses that fit into three disciplines: advanced engineering, life science and information technology, said Miller.
“We will target very similar types of businesses to BTR 2, it’s steps away from the engineering college, so it will be a great fit,” Miller said.
The proximity of both BTR parks to the College of Engineering makes for great partnerships between companies within the park and WMU students.
“The engineering students literally walk out of their class or their lab and walk across the parkway, walk into a company where they’re doing their internship, put in a couple hours, head back to the engineering school,” Miller said.
There have been hundreds of student internships since BTR 1 was launched, and of the 850 employees working in the park, more than a hundred are WMU alums, said Miller.
The large talent pool that companies will have access to is a major marketing tool for the research park, said Agostinelli.
“Right now, with unemployment below 4 percent nationally and even lower in Kalamazoo, the talent side of a project is really a driving factor. From a business attraction standpoint, having that direct connection with a very large talent pool at Western is a huge driver, and a huge marketing tool for us,” Agostinelli said.
Though the project’s environmentally conscious design was only approved in the last few weeks, Miller said he has already received significant interest from a variety of companies.
“I have had conversations with several companies who have expressed an interest in learning more about BTR 2, and they all fit the profile in those three broad terms,” Miller said.
Miller anticipates a 60 day bid process once bidding requests go out, and for actual site work to begin in the late winter or early spring.