• WisBusiness

Thursday, August 13, 2015

MaryBeth Matzek: River Falls looks to launch business incubator

By MaryBeth Matzek
The area around River Falls, which straddles Pierce and St. Croix counties in western Wisconsin and is about 45 minutes away from the Twin Cities, is one of the fastest growing areas in the state. With all those people streaming in, plus being home to a University of Wisconsin campus, the area is ideal for entrepreneurs seeking to start their own businesses.

To help budding business owners, a coalition has come together to create a business incubator in River Falls. Led by the UW-River Falls' Center for Innovation and Business Development and the city, the goal is to create a physical place where entrepreneurs can develop and hone their ideas into thriving businesses. There will also be programs and classes in place to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas into viable businesses.

River Falls City Administrator Scot Simpson says the idea for an incubator has been around for a while in the community, but really has taken off in the past year as the university grew its Center for Innovation and Business Development.

"There's a lot of small business growth potential in this part of the state," he says. "We're one of the fastest growing parts of Wisconsin and UW-River Falls has seen a lot of interest in their center programming since it started about a year ago."

The business incubator would include 30,000-square-feet of flexible space for both manufacturing and offices. To make the project a reality, the partners – which besides the city and university include both counties, Chippewa Valley Technical College and local businesses – is looking to the state and federal government for help. Wisconsin legislators included $750,000 in the most recent state budget for the project, but that's contingent on the project receiving a $1.4 million federal grant.

"Once the incubator is built, we'll have standard programs in place to help businesses," says Danielle Campeau, director of UW-River Fall's Center for Innovation and Business Development. "We expect businesses to be there for about three years. We'll also look to provide grants too. We'll set specific goals for the different businesses."

Campeau says the college has a close relationship with WiSys Technology Foundation, a non-profit UW System organization that serves as a technology transfer office for all of the UW campuses minus Milwaukee and Madison, and UW-Extension. That should help business owners as they look to get patents or trademarks, she adds.

"We have a lot of interest in innovation and have a great ecosystem for entrepreneurship in the area," Campeau says. "The incubator will really be a launch pad.

Simpson says a lot of public and quasi-public organizations are coming together to make the incubator happen. "We're excited to see people starting new businesses and a lot of them are related to technology, which tends to be better paying," he says. "That can only be good news for our residents and community."

As for the university, being involved is a "win-win," Campeau says. "We're getting involved in the community and helping to spark innovation while also providing our faculty and students an opportunity to work with businesses who are dealing with real world issues," she says. "Everyone benefits."

Aviation firm plans expansion

Not too far from River Falls, Airworthy Aerospace Industries Inc., an aircraft interior provider, is planning a $4.6 million expansion at its Hudson facility that will eventually create 45 new jobs.

The expansion will triple the size of the company's existing facility to meet current demand and accommodate future growth. This marks the third expansion since the company crossed the Minnesota-Wisconsin border in 2004.

The company is purchasing an existing 73,000-square-foot building adjacent to its current facility for the expansion project. Part of the expansion plan calls for providing employee training in repair service that is required as part of the company's federal certification as a repair station for commercial aircraft.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. is providing the Airworthy Aerospace Industries with up to $620,000 in job creation and training tax credits over the next three years. The actual amount of credits the company will receive is contingent upon the number of jobs created and how much the company spends on employee training over that time.

New Appvion leader

Appvion, which was formerly known as Appleton Papers, has a new CEO: Kevin Gilligan, who previously led the company's paper division. He takes over for retiring CEO Mark Richards, who will stay on as chairman of the board.

The company also announced it was selling its Encapsys brand to an investment firm in Baltimore for $208 million. That division makes micro encapsulated materials that are used in a variety of manufacturing industries.

-- Matzek, a freelance writer and editor, is the owner of 1Bizzy Writer. She has worked in the past as a news editor at Insight Publications and as business editor at the Appleton Post-Crescent.

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