UPPER MIDWEST REGIONAL REVIEW
Downstate Holds Its Own
Even as Chicago loses some big corporate HQs, it vies for others. The latest candidate is the chemical subsidiary of BP, which is also considering Houston. BP already employs some 1,200 in the Chicago-area community of Naperville. And the Ford Manufacturing Campus, a supplier park
The Research Park at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) now is home to 35 companies that employ 700 high-tech employees.
"The rapid growth in the Research Park can be attributed to the technology base at the University of Illinois, the strong commitment from the state of Illinois and the University, and the partnership forged through the developer agreement by the University and their developer, Fox-Atkins," said Jill Guth, executive director, Champaign County Economic Development Corp. in an April 2004 announcement. The park was celebrating the 2003 opening of the park's 43,000-sq.-ft. (4,000-sq.-m.) EnterpriseWorks incubator, already home to 19 start-ups and 80 employees of its own.
"After the initial setup, we were pleasantly surprised with the local talent pool," says one of the incubator's entrepreneurs, Neil Huff, president and CEO of Renew Power, Inc. "Our first key employees were hired directly from the university environment and we had the lab staffed within weeks." In a reversal of the usual protocol, Huff and his senior management partners relocated from Vancouver, B.C., in order to access the technology, a micro-fuel cell technology developed at UIUC.
Other employers in the surrounding research park include Bayer Crop Science, Motorola and Turner Construction. And the kind of entrepreneurial spirit fostered at such facilities received a boost in early August 2004 when the state kicked off a $50-million Technology Development Fund to invest in venture capital projects. That came on the heels of a $20-million fund raised from private donors by University of Illinois.
The university's heft extends to Decatur, about 40 minutes to the southwest, where health care and bioscience growth is at the fore. Akorn Manufacturing, Med Pointe Pharmaceuticals, and EPL BioAnalytical have recently expanded, and the city's bioscience infrastructure includes global HQs for ADM and AE Staley. In fact, nearly $300 million in capital investment is planned or under way in the region. The most recent project was announced in late July 2004, when Kentucky-based Omnicare (operating locally as Enloe Drugs) chose to retain 100 jobs and add six more as part of establishing corporate offices in the city.
Perhaps the state's school construction plan says as much as anything about the status of education downstate. Gov. Rod Blagojevich wants to commit $400 million, or nearly 80 percent of his school construction budget, to school projects downstate.
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