August 22, 2014

The Morning Sun

The Mt. Pleasant SmartZone district has its first major development in seven years. Charter Communications has developed the vacant shell building at 221 Ellis Place. The building was built by Mount Pleasant Industrial Development Corporation but sat vacant until Phil Seybert, owner of P.S. Equities stepped in. “Thanks to development collaboration we were able to get a company in that space and get a facility for Charter Communications,” said Erin O’ Brien, president and CEO of the Central Michigan University Research Corporation. Located on the campus of Central Michigan University, the CMURC provides a geographical advantage for entrepreneurs and researchers to use CMU assets to assist their endeavors. O’ Brien said CMURC will be taking a different approach to bringing in companies after the shell building sat empty for so long. They are looking to put together a “concentrated plan” to acquire anchor tenants who will eventually be able to move into their own space in the SmartZone. The relationship between the city and university for creation of the district started in 2000’s. The SmartZone district is 300 acres of property owned by CMU, located adjacent to the campus on the south end. CMURC, located on Denison Drive, is leading the effort to develop the land, with GLBRA serving in a supplementary role in convincing companies to come. O’ Brien said CMURC is looking at focus groups comprised of young professionals that are starting tech companies to find the what their needs are. After that doing focus groups with developers and investors to determine what makes financial sense, they plan to go to the city and the CMU Board of Trustees for pre-approval of occupants of SmartZone buildings. “It’s exciting now to get some movement and a plan behind what we’re doing and get more aggressive. “With Charter Communications being the first one in, we’re trying to utilize that to springboard development on the site.” The recent addition of CMU President George Ross to the Great Lakes Bay Regional Alliance Board of Directors, an organization located in the CMU Research Center, the ties to the university have never been stronger. “Our priority for GLBRA is talent development through STEM education,” said Matt Felan, GLBRA president and CEO. “It’s great to have a partner like George Ross who is willing to be actively involved on our board on a daily basis.” “We want to be a supplement for folks in Isabella County to help sell projects out there,” Felan said. “We want to promote across the globe for researchers and companies to come here and be close to a premier university and invest in it.” The university has taken great strides in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. This may be best reflected in the $95.3 million Biosciences Building under construction. Scheduled for completion in fall 2017, the building will house research facilities, laboratories and classrooms dedicated to biology and science studies. Felan said the venture is a “phenomenal gigantic step up for the region.” Michigan has 15 SmartZones in the state, but only CMURC serves the Central Michigan area. These SmartZones include technology business accelerators that use resources from universities and private enterprises to facilitate the commercialization of technology coming from research there.
Because CMU is upping its arsenal, it should theoretically make the land more attractive to entrepreneurs. This is coupled with an already eager workforce of college students that gain practical, real-world experience from employment opportunities. Ross is not the only higher education official to have a stake in GLBRA’s board. Presidents from Northwood, Delta College, the provost of Saginaw Valley State University and the Interim Dean at the College of Education at SVSU hold seats.