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City Council agreements will lead to evolution of research center

WILLMAR -- The Willmar City Council approved agreements Monday night that will lead to development of the Mid Central Research and Outreach Center at the MinnWest Technology Campus.

The research center is a joint project of MinnWest, the city, the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

The agreements will allow campus owner MinnWest Technology Management Company LLC to use a $1.25 million state grant to renovate a building where the technology research and miscellaneous technology services center will be located.

One agreement is a long-term lease for the building between MinnWest and the city and will allow a sublease between the city and the University of Minnesota. The other is a management agreement between MinnWest and the city that will transfer all construction, maintenance and operation responsibilities and costs to MinnWest.

The city received the grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to help pay renovation costs. Construction activities are anticipated to be completed by mid-2011 and the building ready for occupancy, according to officials.

Steve Salzer, MinnWest general manager, said MinnWest began putting the project together 2½ years ago. He said the city was the public entity that needed to apply for the grant. MinnWest applied on behalf of the city and the city received the grant.

"We had a chance to apply for a bioscience infrastructure grant through DEED,'' said Salzer. "We asked the city back then if they would be willing to be a partner in this; of course, with no financial obligation on the city to be that partner.''

Salzer said the research center will be located in one of the buildings located on what had been the grounds of the Willmar Regional Treatment Center. Investors purchased the treatment center after it closed five years ago and have been renovating buildings for private technology companies.

A lab and a top avian researcher hired by the university will be located on the top floor of the 18,000-square-foot renovated building.

The main floor will house University of Minnesota Extension employees and will provide space for interns, professors and post-doctoral students.

The lower level will be a test kitchen and provide space for a future lab and high-tech classroom for business, video conferences, distance learning and work force development.

"We think it's going to be a great resource,'' said Salzer.

He estimated the center will employ from 25 to 30 people, but a fluid mix of research students or professors will be coming and going.

"We hope that with them on the campus, we're going to attract more companies, which would lead to jobs with other private-sector (companies),'' he said. "We definitely think this facility will have a regional impact. It's all good for us out here in greater Minnesota.''

Since MinnWest bought the former treatment center, the number of companies at the campus has grown to 19 with 272 employees.

"We'll keep pushing forward with it,'' Salzer said.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150