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Local

Innovation Center construction will start this fall in Morrison

Addition will serve several segments of region

MORRISON – Innovation and collaboration are two words often heard in economic development circles, but for Morrison Institute of Technology, the concepts will be the foundation of a new building.

The nonprofit engineering technology school will soon break ground on the Morrison Tech Innovation Center, an 8,000-square-foot facility that will serve students, regional businesses, entrepreneurs and artisans.

“We will definitely break ground this fall, so we have a basic framework up and can continue to work through the winter,” Morrison Tech President Chris Scott said.

Scott said the building should be ready to use by late spring, and he expects it to be fully functional by this time next year.

The school is trying to be frugal with the construction costs, figuring it will cost about $750,000 to get the building ready to open. A lot of the equipment is already on campus, it just needs to be moved to the new central location.

“We’ll start with one of everything, and as we evaluate how things are going, we can add more equipment later,” Scott said.

The school is taking on all of the cost, but it is working with Blackhawk Hills Regional Council to pursue grant opportunities. A $99,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program has been secured for equipment.

There also is plenty of space on campus to expand the building to accommodate future needs.

Feasibility work was done to assess how the center could better serve the area’s many small- and mid-sized manufacturers. The school already does quite a bit of prototyping work for businesses such as Timken and Frantz Manufacturing. The work ranges from cutting-edge work with 3-D printers to more traditional processes.

The center fits in well with the economic gardening approach to development that is gaining more traction throughout the region. The philosophy is centered on fostering growth of the smaller manufacturers that already exist, but don’t have the resources to take the next step alone.

“The whole purpose of this project is to bring ideas to life as quickly as possible,” Scott said. “Small companies, with say 3 to 10 people, will benefit most from the center,” Scott said.

Whiteside County Economic Development Director Gary Camarano said the Innovation Center will fill a gap that exists in the region’s business services.

“Innovation drives the economy, and the center will help the area’s manufacturers gain a competitive advantage,” said Camarano, who is a strong proponent of economic gardening.

Camarano said the center will allow companies to better meet customer needs and control costs, making the services a welcome addition to the region’s arsenal in attracting new business.

While the manufacturers are poised to benefit from the center, it will be designed to give the students a higher level of the hands-on experience the institute is known for. Business startups will be encouraged to use the facility to bring ideas to the marketplace.

“This will bring another element to training the area’s workforce, and it will help entrepreneurs bring their ideas to fruition,” Camarano said.

Art and innovation

Space and equipment at the facility will be made available to artisans as Morrison continues to brand the city as an artists enclave.

The Morrison Area Development Corp. is spearheading that effort, with help from the Children’s Art Preservation Association. The city passed a resolution June 26 to officially establish an arts corridor.

The corridor would cover the city limits east and west along U.S. Route 30, incorporating Main Street from Madison to Orange streets, and the south side of town along state Route 78 to Morrison Tech.

“This gives a tremendous opportunity to cross-promote what the school is doing and what we’re doing,” MADC Executive Director Kim Ewoldsen said. “This kind of collaboration will include so many parts of the community.”

The development group is working to find downtown retail space to showcase and sell local artwork. The school’s new facility will provide space and equipment to foster the creative process.

“There will be plenty of room in the Innovation Center for artists to create, and then the work can be sold, bringing another retail element to the downtown,” Ewoldsen said.

The arts corridor plans include the possibility of a traveling gallery, an artist-in-residence program, and collaborative efforts with other regional arts groups.

EDUCATING FOR ALL AGES

Morrison Institute of Technology now has 105 students and 24 people on staff. In addition to teaching its own students, dual-credit arrangements are in place with several area high schools. Younger students also get a taste of hands-on work in areas such as robotics and electronics through the school’s Engineering Technology Days. Go to morrisontech.edu for more information.

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