Business2Business: MinnWest Technology Campus turns vision into reality
The MinnWest Technology Campus originally started with a 100-year-old campus, two companies and an idea to attract new, skilled workers to the Willmar area.
Thirty businesses and 400 employees later, MinnWest has proven it’s an idea that made sense.
“We’ve seen that there’s already been success with many of these companies,” said Joanna Schrupp, business development at MinnWest. “We know that success breeds more success. We’ve seen that in the last seven years.”
In early 2006, Life-Science Innovations and Nova-Tech Engineering purchased the former Willmar Regional Treatment Center and created The MinnWest Technology Campus LLC. The two companies saw the 100-acre health care facility as a potential “tech cluster” that could attract skilled workers to the area.
The companies partnered with many others – including the city, county, Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission and various elected officials – to take a risk and establish the campus.
So far, that risk has paid off. For example, Nova Tech, an engineering company that manufactures and maintains robotic equipment for poultry, grew from 48 employees at the time of its move to 150 employees today. Nova Tech’s equipment is now used in 40 countries around the world, and the company even recently opened its first overseas office in China.
“These companies out here have all weathered the economy quite well,” said Steve Salzer, general manager of the MinnWest Technology Campus, adding that the tech campus has brought roughly 120 new workers to the Willmar area in seven years. “We know there are a lot of good things happening here.”
Several of the companies on campus have developed state-of-the-art technology and have become leaders in their industries. Epitopix, for example, is the first U.S. company to have a conditionally licensed animal vaccine for E. coli O157. The animal vaccine company now partners with other companies worldwide to conduct research.
Aside from technology and agriscience companies, the campus has support systems tenants, such as insurance agents and civil engineers. The campus also has amenities available for all employees, including a pool, gymnasium, fitness center, on-site cafeteria and child care.
After seven years, the 500,000-square-foot campus is now 58 percent filled and has 400 employees. The goal is to have 600 to 800 employees once the campus is completely filled, which could happen within the next six to eight years, Salzer said. There are also 40 acres to the east that MinnWest could develop in the future.
Last year, the University of Minnesota established the Mid-Central Research and Outreach Center on the MinnWest Technology Campus, which will serve as a regional base for university research, education and engagement.
“They’re the gateway to the University of Minnesota,” Schrupp said. “They’re a link between us and the businesses out in this area. They can provide resources, further education, and some of that collaboration and research abilities that certain companies couldn’t do before because of cost factors and equipment.”
In the future, MinnWest plans to continue building on the success of current tenants, Schrupp said, and attract new companies by establishing a reputation among bioscience professionals and by seeking out key partnerships.
In the past, it’s been these partnerships – as well as a forward-thinking vision and a risk-taking spirit – that’s propelled the MinnWest Technology Campus to become a true technology hub, right here in rural Minnesota.
“Our initial partners were willing to take a risk and move it forward,” Schrupp said. “There were a lot of people involved who were passionate and didn’t want to see this facility go away. All of the partners worked together to make this happen. If it wasn’t for their vision and their willingness to take a risk, I don’t know that all of this would’ve happened.”