COVER STORY, JULY 2011

RETHINKING BUSINESS
Next-generation business parks in Wisconsin offer targeted industry amenities.
By: Errin Welty

The Madison BioAg Gateway Park in Madison, Wis. Turn to page 20 to read more about this and other next-generation Wisconsin business parks.

Business and industrial parks have a long history in Midwestern communities. Many municipalities began to create designated parks in the early to mid 1970s with the goal of providing dedicated, affordable land to entice new and expanding businesses to locate in the community. While larger metropolitan regions often boast a handful of private parks touting a high-end corporate image and associated amenities package, in the majority of small and mid-sized communities, municipally-owned parks offer the greatest source for development-ready land parcels, especially for manufacturing and industrial users where vacant land with suitable zoning may otherwise be scarce.

New business park creation has remained fairly consistent over the past four decades. However, the combination of new parks and the expansion of existing parks have created a continual increase in overall park acreage. At the same time, total average absorption has increased only slightly over the same period, making the market significantly more competitive. As an example, for the Wausau Metropolitan Area in Wisconsin, the three decades from 1970 to 2000 saw 1,926 acres of municipally-owned industrial park land added to the market. In contrast, for the same region, over 1,200 acres of land has been added to the Wausau market from 2000 to the present, an increase of 77 percent in a little more than a decade.

This increase in space has come to Wisconsin communities big and small, ranging from Marathon City (pop. 1,524) to Milwaukee (pop. 594,833). Smaller villages and towns created new parks in hopes of increasing their economic base, while larger cities expanded successful parks. The success of individual business parks has varied greatly depending on a number of factors including the overall functionality of the park layout, the level of marketing and outreach activity, and the health of the local economy. Some Wisconsin communities have attempted to create a competitive advantage by developing parks tailored to niche market sectors and marketing accordingly. Three of these next generation parks are profiled here.

Weston Business Park South

This inconspicuously named project caters to companies concerned about sustainability and green business practices. The 76-acre park, located along Wisconsin State Highway 29, is surrounded by a 30-acre conservancy with integrated hiking trails and picnic areas and has a zero-emissions policy for tenants. The combination of green amenities and highway access has been a key selling point for companies interested in sustainability. According to Village Administrator Dean Zuleger, the Village has made a point to focus on environmental sensitivity by doing site preparation work gradually to minimize water quality impacts, and is also using the excess lots as a forest nursery to provide replacement trees for other municipal parks. So far, these efforts have paid off, as the four-year-old park has sold three lots with a fourth under contract. Two of the three lot sales have come from companies new to the Village, in part, because of the uniqueness of the sites.

East Park Commerce Center

The City of Stevens Point, Wisconsin, is capitalizing on the lack of rail service along the Highway 51 corridor with the creation of a new trans-load facility. Situated on the Canadian National rail line, which provides service from Port Albert to the Gulf of Mexico, this park will initially feature 14 development sites and a central transit facility.

The park has attracted strong interest from local and regional firms, and is currently negotiating with larger potential anchor tenants. The negotiations and logistics for creating the park were extensive, with a four-year planning process culminating in final plan approval in the spring of 2011. As with many new parks, the layout emphasizes flexibility and customization. While sewer and water were installed up front, additional infrastructure will be installed simultaneous to the user facilities, providing data and electrical capacity geared to the end user.

This phased approach leaves the irrigation infrastructure in place, allowing land owners to continue to farm unoccupied sites. This park is anticipated to complement other facilities in the area, including the adjacent Portage County Business Park and Crossroads Commons Shopping Center.

Madison BioAg Gateway Park

Technology focused business parks are certainly not new, as many municipalities have jumped on the bandwagon following the economic success of tech hubs such as Silicon Valley in California and Raleigh-Durham’s Research Triangle. However, Madison has taken a different spin, targeting its tech park to maximize a local strength, namely, bio-agriculture.

Co-located with the Midwest BioLink Center, which provides incubator space for bio-agriculture entrepreneurs including specialized lab and controlled greenhouse space, the 27-acre Madison BioAg Gateway Park is designed with smaller lots appealing to startup and early-stage companies that benefit from proximity to the incubator and other University and State resources, including access to scientific equipment such as mass spectrometers. As an additional amenity, test plot planting space will be available on the adjacent state-owned acres, providing wetland and field crop areas. The park is platted with roads and utilities in place, and the BioLink facility is scheduled to break ground this fall.

According to Michael Gay, economic development director for the City of Madison, the extensive planning has paid off with strong interest from a variety of entities including everything from small startups to large corporations and federal agencies. He credits the international advisory council’s influence as a key component of the success, ensuring that every aspect of the park from design to marketing was tailored to meet the needs of its target audience.

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While many of these parks are too new to determine if their unique approach to targeted marketing will result in increased absorption rates and sustained long-term appeal, it has resulted in positive feedback and corporate interest, even in a period when the majority of projects were shelved for lack of funding or fear of economic contraction.

Of course, creating a targeted park is not as simple as developing a branding initiative — a specific knowledge of the local market and unique needs associated with the industry are critically important. Each of the above parks fills a gap in the local market by providing a missing infrastructure component such as rail service or greenhouse space, or by appealing to an emerging industry or sensibility on a manageable scale with green design or shared technology resources. Park layout and design is equally important; an agriculture-oriented park without greenhouse or crop space or a trans-load facility with insufficient turning radii will not succeed in attracting its target audience, and will likely fail to attract any tenants at all.

Public or private entities considering a targeted park are well-advised to do their homework by researching local industry trends, and follow through by creating an oversight committee including leaders from within the target industry sector as well as representatives from the local lending community. This stakeholder involvement will ensure that the project is designed to meet specific industry and financial standards, and also lends credibility to the development and to the municipal host.

Errin Welty is a market analyst at Vierbicher’s Madison, Wisconsin office, working with public and private sector clients to create market-based solutions to solve economic and planning issues.


©2011 France Publications, Inc. Duplication or reproduction of this article not permitted without authorization from France Publications, Inc. For information on reprints of this article contact Barbara Sherer at (630) 554-6054.




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