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Small City Helps Create a Big Success


Innovation Center

by ICMA

Wisconsin community joins university and other partners in initiative that has created 100 jobs and improved the region’s economic future.

Whitewater, a small, rural community of 15,000, located in southern Wisconsin, has joined with a university and other partners to launch an initiative that has already improved the region’s economic future. In 2008, when the country was facing a debilitating economic crisis, the city, the city's Community Development Authority (CDA), and the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater began developing an economic strategy that would focus on business incubation and increase the economic vitality of the community.

After a feasibility study indicated that a technology-based incubator and surrounding technology-centered business park had a good chance of success—especially with the proximity to the university—the city, the CDA, and the university committed to the project. They applied for and received a $4.74 million federal grant as a catalyst to develop the 125-acre Whitewater-University Technology Park and Innovation Center. The Innovation Center, a 37,500 square foot LEED Gold-certified building with meeting facilities, wet labs, and 17 incubation suites leased 70 percent of its space in the first year.

This initiative, which was in response to a struggling economy, has already created 100 new jobs. The entire community has been involved in the effort and local businesses are already reaping benefits of increased activity. University faculty are benefitting from the research opportunities; students benefit from internships and jobs; and schools are benefitting from the increased tax base and access to university resources.

One of the Innovation Center's first tenants is the Cooperative Education Services Agency 2, which serves 75 school districts in southern Wisconsin. The park and center have attracted many start ups ups because of the university relationship and the opportunity for mentoring. Blackthorne Capital Management, a start-up financial software firm, was one of the first tenants and employs university students as interns, providing hands-on experience and skill development. As city manager Kevin Brunner highlighted in his comments at the one-year anniversary celebration, there are many reasons why this project deserves recognition:

  • The collaborative partnerships that have been forged
  • The model of applied green and sustainable technology that the center provides
  • The talent, drive, imagination, and creativity that the people working at the center have contributed.

The development of the technology park and innovation center—a bold step, taken during tough economic times—may seem unusual for a small community. We are used to hearing about large research universities with technology parks in large metropolitan areas. Yet, it is the smaller scale that makes the Whitewater model replicable for small communities with a good business school as a partner. Together the city and the university worked to raise equity, bonded debt, and grant funding. This exciting and rewarding initiative is city manager Brunner’s passion, as he explains “Maintaining our vision, following through, and executing that vision, along with keeping our ideas big and bold will ensure continued success.”

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Jurisdictions

City of Whitewater, WI

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