Development Corporation announces bioscience fund

WILLMAR -- Through its new bioscience fund, the Willmar Area Development Corporation has hired a consultant to help market the MinnWest Technology Campus to future tenants.

WILLMAR -- Through its new bioscience fund, the Willmar Area Development Corporation has hired a consultant to help market the MinnWest Technology Campus to future tenants.

The initiative by the nonprofit Development Corporation will buttress what city and county government are already doing to recruit technology firms to the new campus.

"The MinnWest Technology Campus is here. It's available. How do we prime the pump to get businesses to come to the area?" said John Christianson, chairman of the Willmar Area Development Corporation.

The bioscience fund was announced Friday at the corporation's annual meeting. Corporation members also heard a presentation from the consultant -- Harlan Jacobs, president of Genesis Business Centers Ltd. His contract with the Willmar Area Development Corporation officially starts Monday.

The corporation has committed $25,000 to the initiative. Corporation members are in the process of raising the money for the bioscience fund.


"This is the business community's commitment to making economic development happen in the area," Christianson said. "We think there's going to be a lot of spillover into other areas."

Although Jacobs will focus primarily on recruiting high-technology firms for the MinnWest Technology Campus, Development Corporation officials also want to focus on prospects that might be a good fit for Willmar's Industrial Park, downtown Willmar or for the city's new airport, which will be opening later this year.

The challenge for local officials, Christianson said, has been how to identify those prospects and evaluate their feasibility.

"Where do we start? Where do we look for them?" he said.

Jacobs specializes in working with community development organizations in search of high-tech jobs.

There's no reason to think Willmar won't be successful in recruiting technology firms to locate here, he said. "I think there's an opportunity to bring a lot of high-quality jobs through new employers to your community. ... If we think they're good people or good prospects, we'll get them on your radar screen."

To demonstrate, Jacobs presented a list of 10 technology companies that are currently seeking to expand and could potentially locate in Willmar. The diverse slate includes a company that's developing a bioartificial liver system, a manufacturer of nutraceuticals and a producer of biomedical products that simulate human tissue.

These types of companies tend to thrive on creativity and a certain level of risk-taking, Jacobs said. "There's one guy and an idea and the proverbial orange crate."


They often invest highly in trained employees. Their businesses can soar with profits -- or conversely go sour.

The failure rate can be high but so can the returns, Jacobs said. "When your successes come, everyone's going to benefit from it."

This is why it's usually critical to obtain private-sector backing so that taxpayer dollars aren't put at risk, he said.

"The common thread is at some stage in their life they needed seed capital," Jacobs said. "When that enterprise is scrambling, that $25,000, $50,000, sometimes $100,000 or $150,000 is much more valuable and creates an indelible impression. If you help these people at an early stage, you stand to reap tremendous benefits."

"That's a critical function for getting started," Christianson agreed. "Sometimes it's not a tremendous amount of money, but it's very important."

He said the Willmar Area Development Corporation is working this year to establish a private investor fund. Once the fund is capitalized -- probably sometime in 2007 -- it will become a source of seed capital or leverage financing.

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