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WMU announces multi-million dollar investment on Drake Road

WMU announces multi-million dollar investment on Drake Road. (WWMT/Cyrus Raymond)

Western Michigan University has revealed a new development plan that could bring hundreds of jobs to the Kalamazoo area.

The plan involves expanding the Business, Technology and Research (BTR) Park to an area along Drake Road south of Stadium Drive. The new development will be similar to the park that already exists, nicknamed BTR 1. According to WMU, there are about 40 businesses in BTR 1 that employ 850 people, and they are out of space. So they are creating a second park with hopes that even more companies will come to the area.

"Usually the jobs in the Business Technology Research Park are great technology jobs, so good paying jobs," said Oshtemo Township Planning Director Julie Johnston.

Johnston is involved in the development because it's located inside township boundaries. Oshtemo is partnering with WMU and Kalamazoo to get a wooded area near BTR 1 ready for development by summer 2019.

"The road, the water, the sewer, those types of things that are needed for the businesses to develop," Johnston said.

Johnston expects the new park to attract seven to 10 new businesses that could create 200 new jobs. The park's location is strategic.

"It is bounded by U.S. 131, so it has excellent visibility from the highway," Johnston said.

The land is also very close to WMU, something Joe Agostinelli, with Southwest Michigan First, said will attract tech and engineering companies.

"There's students, potential internships, there's that talent pipeline. Because the talent piece really is the name of the game," he said.

Agostinelli said the hardest part of a project like this is securing funding. WMU was able to get a $2.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce.

The university and local communities are investing about the same amount for a total project cost of a little more than $4 million.

"Every company that is coming in is always going to try to hire local talent first, because that helps the community and frankly it's an easier proposition for the community," Agostinelli said.

Construction in the area is expected to start around summer 2019, but potential businesses probably won't be setting up shop until 2020.

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