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Brainstorming underway to reduce cost

Starkville forges ahead with plans for tech business incubator

STARKVILLE — Initial bids on constructing a new technology business incubator, the Ralph E. Powe Center for Innovative Technology, came in well over the funds available for the project. But officials at the state’s first technology park are exploring options to reduce costs in order to move forward.

The Greater Starkville Development Partnership staff met recently with Mississippi State University (MSU) officials and architects to brainstorm options to reduce the cost of the new technology business incubator.

Because site preparation represents a significant amount of the budget, consideration is being given to moving the location of the new technology incubator in the Mississippi Research and Technology Park. The exact location is dependent upon the acreage required for the $9-million, 48,000-square-foot Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems (CAVS) being built at the park to support the Nissan manufacturing plant in Canton.

Officials expect the site preparation for the CAVS to begin in November. The center will do research within the automotive industry on issues such as ergonomics, composites and new technology.

David Thornell, president and CEO of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership, said despite the delay in building the park’s second technology incubator, progress is being made.

“These projects are all on go,” Thornell said. “The park makes a bold statement for this area in our ability to team with MSU to take advantage of the business development opportunities that result from the research that is taking place on campus.”

The Powe Center is a $3.5-million, 25,000-square-foot technology business incubator that will include a 5,000-square-foot “clean room” for manufacturing computer microchips. The other 20,000 square feet will replace the current 3,000-square-foot incubator, the Golden Triangle Enterprise Center.

The Mississippi Research and Technology Park located adjacent to MSU is a joint venture of the City of Starkville and Oktibbeha County, with support from MSU. The park’s proximity to MSU offers tenants convenient access to the university’s research facilities and equipment.

“It is significant that MSU accounts for 72% of all of the university research that goes on in the state,” Thornell said. “We are a dominant force in the state in many different areas. It makes this a desirable place for business. The park is a first-class showcase for companies interested in the technology environment.”

Currently the partnership is working to develop an additional 220 acres on the west side of the park that will be known as the Cornerstone Industrial Business Center. Thornell said the expansion is needed to have room for growth because current projects have taken up most of the available land at the park. A $238,860 grant has been received to develop infrastructure for the Starkville West industrial/e-commerce park, which will be located at the intersection of Highway 12 and the new Highway 25 bypass.

Marc McGee, coordinator of research, outreach and development at MSU, said part of the university’s role is economic development. The park allows the university to help grow new and existing homegrown industries in Mississippi.

McGee said spinning off new companies as a result of research innovations is a goal of the research park. One such example is SemiSouth Laboratories, which is located in the current technology incubator. SemiSouth will be using the clean room in the new incubator to manufacture microchips with a wafer design. SemiSouth Laboratories has seen a lot of interest in the microchips, and has contracts with the Department of Defense and private industries.

In addition to the new technology incubator and the CAVS, a third building planned is a Viking Range research facility. Viking Range is planning to break ground sometime in the spring for the 44,000-square-foot facility for research and development.

McGee said Viking Range recently purchased the Amana product line, and plans to work on upgrading the product line as part of their research and development efforts. Viking Range plans to partner with the university for some of the research.

Starkville Mayor Mack Rutledge said the technology park already in existence for nearly 15 years has been a great asset to the city.

“There has been an expansion of interest in the past few years that makes it all the more important to us,” Mayor Rutledge said. “It is the cutting edge for the future of our community and the area. It is a very symbiotic relationship between economic development efforts and research programs of MSU.

“The very attractiveness of the park, its proximity to the MSU campus as well as to the city, and the types of research activity that go on there make it a prime magnet for technological development. It reflects a great deal of foresight and courage on the part of city and county officials and the economic development staff that were in place back in the late 1980s when this was initiated. It certainly didn’t come cheap. We are still paying on the cost of the property and the improvements, but I feel it has already proven to be an excellent investment and a real asset to our community.”

The Mississippi Research and Technology Park currently houses the Mississippi Technology Center, a 55,000-square-foot incubator completed in 1988 that houses about 15 companies ranging in size from one to more than 100 employees. Another major business located at the park is Service Zone, which employs about 600 people providing technical service support to major computer manufacturers.

For more information about the park, see the Web site www.starkville.org.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at mullein@datasync.com or (228) 872-3457.

About Becky Gillette

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