WMU's Business, Technology, Research Park prepares for next phase of development

Now that Business, Technology, and Research Park on Western Michigan University's Parkview Campus is full, plans are moving forward to develop what has historically been called the Colony Farms property.

Robert Miller, Associate Vice President for community outreach for WMU, offered a look back at the history of the development of the BTR Park recently and talked about what lies ahead as part of a Mercantile Bank of Michigan Breakfast Series event hosted by WMU’s Haworth College of Business.

The BTR Park is located on WMU’s 265-acre Parkview Campus, which also is the home of WMU's College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. It came about as a way to generate tax base for the community and now offers an opportunity for companies that want to be located on the campus of a major research university.

To date, the BTR Park has 42 companies, eight of which have built their own facilities. It is the workplace for 700 people and through its economic impact it has created 800 indirect jobs. The Park also creates opportunities for WMU students to do get real world experience working at companies there.

"Part of the concept is creating an excellent culture of internships," MIller said. "This is experiential learning."

Miller told the group that the BTR Park was planned to help the community make the transition from its position as a home for Big Pharma. As Upjohn sold to Pharmacia, which in turn sold to Pfizer, which went on to downsize, leaders in the community realized they needed a plan, that small, nimble biotech companies were beginning to get traction in the economy, and that with the right facilities Kalamazoo could be part of that economic shift.

The Southwest Michigan Innovation Center, an integral part of the BTR Park and now home to 18 companies, was getting ready to open just as Pfizer was announcing in 2003 that it was leaving Kalamazoo. As a result, 800 PhD research scientists now had the choice whether to stay in Kalamazoo or move to another Pfizer location.

"We could go to outgoing Pfizer scientists and say, if you think you would like to start a business, we have a place for you and equipment you can use," Miller said. Pfizer donated millions of dollars worth of equipment to SMIC. "Some great scientists took us up on this opportunity," Miller said.

The BTR Park is dedicated to businesses with a focus in advance engineering, life sciences, information technology or a combination of the three. All 42 companies in the BTR Park have at least one of those areas as a function of what they do, Miller told the full house at the early morning gathering. "There are no donut shops," Miller said. It also was developed with high standards of ecologic preservation.

In 2014, with the development of the Newell Rubbermaid design center, the BTR Park is now at capacity and its tenancy has been stable for 14 years.

So now the university is working with the Oshtemo Township Planning Board to work out plans for the property to the northwest of the BTR Park where there is about 39 to 45 acres that can be developed. The property has been zoned Business, Technology and Research Park.

"We've worked closely with the neighbors and the township to make sure plans are palatable for everybody," Miller said.

Miller could offer no timeline for development of the property as there currently is not yet a way to finance the roads, water and sewer necessary for the property. They could cost about $4 million.

In the larger BTR Park development that infrastructure was paid for in part through the establishment of a SMART Zone that earmarks taxes collected from a specific area for such construction. More than $7 million has been collected there and has gone to pay off the cost of infrastructure.

"We've been working quietly behind the scenes with the Township and Southwest Michigan First," Miller said. "We're reluctant to say when we will break ground since we have to solve the funding of infrastructure issue."

Writer: Kathy Jennings, Second Wave Media
Source:  Mercantile Bank of Michigan Breakfast Series event