Minnesota’s higher education systems collaborate with Willmar and private industry to open research center for biotechnology business development

Posted: October 20, 2008

Contact: Doug Anderson, doug.anderson@so.mnscu.edu, 651-201-1426

Plans for a $2.5 million biotechnology research and business development center in Willmar were unveiled today by officials for the city, the MinnWest Technology Campus, the University of Minnesota and the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system.

The Mid-Central Biosciences Center will be operated by the University of Minnesota and will occupy a building on the MinnWest Technology Campus, a private venture that provides facilities for new and expanding businesses in biosciences, technology and related industries. Development of the center is made possible by a $1.25 million grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to the city of Willmar, along with matching funds from MinnWest Technology Campus.

The building will be renovated and equipped as a biotechnology laboratory and research center. Renovation is set to begin immediately and expected to be completed by next fall.

“This is a landmark opportunity,” said Jim Sieben, president of MinnWest Technology Campus. “I do not know of another example in our state where private industry has collaborated so closely with public higher education and the community in which it resides.

“The University of Minnesota provides the best research capabilities in our state, the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system equips young adults to apply practical solutions to this research, and private industry can bring all of it to market,” Sieben said. “This is a big step toward realizing MinnWest’s goal of advancing Willmar as a center of economic excellence.”

The partners said the new center will provide incentives for new and existing businesses to become involved in bio-business endeavors, which encompasses everything from pharmaceuticals to renewable energy to agribusiness. The center will offer access to laboratory and research equipment that otherwise would not be affordable to startup companies and small businesses.

High-technology companies will have greater access to the expertise and research capacity of the university’s faculty who will be able to participate in applied research programs with private industry partners. The University of Minnesota has a proven track record in technology transfer with 767 current licensing agreements in effect and an average of 82 patent applications and 80 new business applications per year since 2001. The university currently serves the Willmar area through its Extension Service, a poultry research facility, a dental clinic and other programs.

St. Cloud State University will be the lead institution for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system in this project. Students from St. Cloud State University and the University of Minnesota will be involved through coursework, laboratory studies and research internships. These experiences will give them valuable research skills in business and industry settings that will prepare them to work in the 21st century and to become the next generation of scientific researchers needed to keep Minnesota at the forefront of biobusiness.

“It isn’t enough to conduct groundbreaking research,” said University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks. “This knowledge has to be shared with those who can use it to solve practical problems, stimulate our economy and create jobs for our citizens. Thanks to this generous investment by the state and together with Willmar, MinnWest and our Minnesota State Colleges and Universities partners, we can turn Willmar into the bio-business hub of the country.”

James McCormick, chancellor of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, said, “The center builds the state’s capacity to advance research, development and marketing of new biotechnology products and to create a highly trained workforce for developing industries. This collaboration draws on the strengths of each higher education system and can serve as model for other regions of the state. We also believe it will help ensure Minnesota’s competitive edge.”

Willmar City Administrator Michael Schmit said, “We believe this bioscience center will spur development of exciting job and educational opportunities that will enhance the local economy and help Willmar become a leading center for these industries by providing access to technology and academic resources that are not available elsewhere.”

The MinnWest Technology Campus, which opened about three years ago, has established a community of technology and support businesses with 230 employees. MinnWest invested $9 million to provide tenant companies with technological networks, business support, and amenities such as a cafeteria, fitness center, and soon a daycare center.