n a land once known for valuable ores, companies today are mining an emerging vein of skill and capability. It's being brought to the surface by a varied network of knowledge conveyors, otherwise known as Missouri's higher education community.
A weeklong series of interviews, facility visits and group conversations in May 2009 encompassed more than 70 individuals and more than 1,100 miles. It also offered a complete course in how learning begets growth – of people, of companies and, ultimately, of innovation.
Drive along Olive Blvd. in suburban St. Louis and the names on the buildings pop out: Microsoft
. Just around the corner from these corporate campuses sits the campus of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, the largest independent research institute in the world devoted to plant sciences.
The Danforth facility is home to 230 employees representing 25 countries, 188 of whom are scientists. The new Building I at Bio-Research & Development Growth (BRDG) Park, being developed by Wexford Science+Technology on the Danforth Center campus, will be home to a mix of labs and classroom space for St. Louis Community College, another space for Monsanto
and a prime upper-floor space for Divergence
, a world leader in developing products for the control of parasites in agriculture and medicine that graduated last year from the Nidus Center of Scientific Enterprise. Divergence sprang from the city's world-renowned Washington University. Nidus, sponsored by Monsanto, is moving into the building too.
One of the park's unique features will be the on-site biotechnician development and training program administered by St. Louis Community College.
"We just received a new NSF grant to start up our own CRO [contract research organization] here at BRDG Park," says Richard Norris, director of Plant and Life Sciences at the college. "I think it will be a perfect marriage."
The college's lauded biotechnician program is 10 years old, and Norris says half of its students are holders of bachelor's degrees who want the hands-on knowledge they didn't get during their four-year courses of study.
From this window in the new Building I at BRDG Park, staff at Divergence will look down on the Danforth Plant Sciences Center and its growing phalanx of greenhouses.
"There are more plant Ph.D.s in this region than anywhere else in the world," says Sam Fiorello, president of BRDG Park, in describing the St. Louis metro-area life sciences node, branded as the BioBelt, which is home to nearly 400 plant and life sciences companies with more than 16,500 employees. But even so, he says, having a work force development program in place to funnel skilled hands to the bench is a crucial tool that helps address a key shortage in the industry at large.
The Missouri Development Finance Board helped BRDG with $1 million in tax credits, as well as funds through the St. Louis Port Authority to offset the high tenant improvement costs that can come with such research-intensive properties.
"That's a critical barrier to entry," says Fiorello. "It can be $200 per square foot for core and shell cost, and depending on what sort of horsepower, it could be $150 to $200 per square foot in fit-up costs. That's a chunk of money. So the tenant improvement funds have been very helpful."
Among the center's founding principles are commercialization and collaboration. "We are constantly looking at trying to mine the technology that's created," says Fiorello.
Among the nations whose companies BRDG is targeting are China and Israel, says Fiorello. A recent global call for business plans netted close to 50 submissions. But the globe-leading innovations may not be so far away: Out of the 15 chosen for review by investors were two from Canada, one from New Zealand … and three from St. Louis itself.
Mark S. Wrighton, chancellor, Washington University, oversees a campus that generates more than $500 million in research spending annually, and which brings in talent from more than 100 countries and all 50 states.
A Clear Leader
Washington University Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton's early focus as a scientist was on photosynthesis. So is the focus of the new federally backed Energy Frontier Research Center (EFRC) to be located at the school's International Center for Advanced Renewable Energy and Sustainability. The DOE will establish the Photosynthetic Antenna Research Center and study forms of energy based on the principles of light harvesting and energy funneling.
"It's very exciting for me," says Wrighton, but it's only a part of the school's research focus. In addition to seven new distinguished professorships in the energy field, Washington University is constructing the largest and most expensive building ever built on campus to support its research agenda. Wrighton says the university's relatively new department of biomedical engineering will also be expanding in the new building – only 12 years old, the department already ranks among the top 10 in the nation.
"We're the single largest recipient of federal support of any college or university in the state of Missouri," explains Wrighton, with 75 percent of that funding going toward human health and biology, much of it on the medical school campus.
Washington University's total operating budget is $1.8 billion, and its $5.7-billion endowment places it among the top private universities in the United States. Its reputation for working with private industry is stellar.
"Some of the most highly celebrated agreements between a research university and a company have come from Washington University," says Wrighton, pointing to the current agreement with Pfizer
and a longstanding agreement with Monsanto.
"In its day, the Monsanto-Washington University agreement was the largest between a company and a university," he says. "In very recent times, we've established a research consortium for clean coal utilization with Peabody
." Other strong relationships with longstanding St. Louis ties include those with Boeing
, and bioMérieux
“If companies came here in hope of recruiting young engineers into their
technical operations, they would find pretty fertile terrain to cultivate.”
"Establishing a partnership is what we're anxious to do," he says of intellectual property and licensing negotiations with companies. "We do not undertake research with the expectation that we're going to make money."
"The most important contribution we make to innovation is the people who leave with the know-how and the show-how," he says. "We would like our region to see more entrepreneurial activity, more people prowling around the new knowledge."
The institution's programs include the McDonnell International Scholars Academy, through which Washington University partners with 24 other premier research universities around the world. Sponsors of the program include DuPont and Corning, as well as St. Louis mainstays Boeing, Emerson and Monsanto.
"Programs like that add to the cosmopolitan nature of St. Louis," says Wrighton. He points out that the preponderance of foreign students would prefer to stay in the U.S.
"My own view, and that of others, is that we've invested in them and we should help them stay. A Ph.D. student is going to be doing research and receiving investment from the U.S., and we should take advantage of that.
I'm very proud that the first scholars that graduated from the McDonnell International Scholars Academy went to work for corporate sponsors – one to Monsanto, one to Emerson. They are very talented people, and it's great to have them here in the U.S."
Home in the German Hills
A different Washington awaits the visitor rolling down I-44 (the old Route 66) just outside St. Louis. But the same spirit of innovation and inclusion hovers over the City of Washington, Mo., a community of just over 13,000 located along the Missouri River in an area known as Missouri's Rhineland.
The surnames Bauer, Oldenburg, Heidmann and Vossbrink were present among the 14 people assembled at the manufacturing plant of German firm Harman Becker
, which makes high-end "infotainment" systems under such names as Infinity and JBL for such customers as BMW and Harley Davidson.
Barbara Heidmann, human resources manager for Harman Becker, says the company has seen great help with Work Keys pre-testing at East Central College nearby. She has been involved in plant launches in multiple states, but says the work force in Washington "is far above what I've worked with in other places. It truly is. I've had people come from [another] location, in the midst of us hiring 280 people, and say, 'We just wish we had people like this to interview.' "
"It's a work ethic," she says. "They have good roots, good examples, and you go to work because that's what you're expected to do. It's passed down."
"I agree 100 percent," says Ed Jackson, president of East Central College. "It's ingrained in the people here. There are very few places you find this environment."
Harman Becker found it in 2005, after looking at 35 sites initially. Mayor Dick Stratman says, "One thing that impressed the site locator was how well all aspects of the community integrated and got along – they didn't see any friction."
"You know you're on solid ground when the site locator says, 'You know, I could live in this town,' " says Dick Oldenburg, community and economic development director for the City of Washington. "The community sells itself."
And so does higher education.
"One of the first things we did when we worked with Harman was to meet with the president of the university system at Mizzou, and we also brought in the chancellor at Rolla [now known as Missouri University of Science and Technology, or Missouri S&T]," he says. "Sometimes R&D is a very confidential thing. But that door was opened as one of the first things we did."
Ed Jackson, president of East Central College in Union, Mo., leads an institution with a strong track record in collaborating with industry. Now the college stands ready to welcome students to its new nursing, health and science building, above.
The relationship with Missouri S&T has borne fruit: "We had them analyze some metal debris we found in our assemblies," says Mike Davidson, quality manager for Harman Becker. "They used their scanning electron microscope and performed material analysis on the metal debris. Their analysis determined the debris was from the screws used in assembly. With this information we added a wax coating to the screws and significantly reduced metal debris."
East Central College has been able to access some $2 million in state training funds to support four separate projects with Harman. And it's supported other businesses too, such as G.H. Tool & Mold
, which makes molds for complex metal parts ranging from automotive to aerospace, lawn and garden, and other industrial applications. GKN Aerospace
in Hazelwood (see sidebar) is among its customers.
"We have rather high-tech jobs," says Julie Scannell, human resources administrator for G.H., who also serves as chairman of the board for the Chamber of Commerce, a member of the 353 Redevelopment Corp., and an executive member of the Missouri Employer Committee, which exists to improve the connections between local businesses, schools, and jobseekers. "People who grow up on a farm tend to have mechanical aptitude and a solid work ethic, but they don't all go into our industry. We needed training specifically for precision machinists and toolmakers. The owner of my company [Gerry Hellebusch] contacted East Central, and partnered with them to create a degree program."
In the end, G.H. leased a nearby building and developed the precision moldmaking instruction, East Central sanctioned the curriculum, and G.H. hired people to work 32 hours a week while going to school. The program graduated half a dozen people each year with associate degrees, while other full-time employees took courses toward their own career development. The program has since been absorbed by the Washington School District, whose vocational school works in increasing partnership with East Central and area industry.
"Without them we would have only been able to offer on-the-job training," says Scannell. "We wouldn't have gotten nearly the caliber of people, or the R&D opportunities."
Thus another cycle of redevelopment takes hold in the city that was once the corn cob pipe capital of the world.
"At one time we were a shoe factory town," says Robert L. Vossbrink, president emeritus of the Bank of Washington, whose surname is on the street sign outside the Harman Becker plant. "When they closed, I was a member of the Jaycees in Washington, and we knew something had to be done. We formed the Washington Civic Industrial Corporation by selling stock, and used the money to buy land to acquire industries.
"Over the years, I've seen 25 new industries come," he says. "My contribution has been through financial assistance. As a result, every one of my five children and most of my 17 grandchildren are in Washington, Missouri. I'm proud of that, because that's what I wanted to achieve."
Mizzou Has Tiger by the Tail
The University of Missouri-Columbia, the state system's main campus, is growing in a lot of ways: new orthopedic medicine and cancer centers; a new recreational center for students that's among the best in the country; $250 million in staged redevelopment of housing stock over 15 years. It's all to help accommodate an institution that saw enrollment approaching 31,000 undergraduate and graduate students during the 2008-09 academic year.
Among the school's amenities is the $65-million, 220,000-sq.-ft. Christopher S. Bond Life Sciences Center, headed by Director Jack S. Schultz, a professor of plant science who came to the position in 2007 from Penn State University.
The Christopher S. Bond Life Sciences Center on the campus of the University of Missouri-Columbia is just one of many high-tech research facilities in Missouri sporting the name of the state's esteemed U.S. senator. It is overseen by Jack Schultz (above).
Housing 38 of the institution's most dynamic faculty researchers and scientists, the facility is not only designed for interdisciplinary collaboration inside, but is positioned between dorms and classrooms on campus, further enhancing its visibility to a constant stream of students. Further synergy is on the horizon, as phase two of the center's development will involve a USDA lab next door.
Every faculty member at the center signs a memorandum of understanding that asks them to be "as collaborative as productive research will allow," says Schultz, in a phrase that captures the creative tension between IP and commercialization. But even simply meeting other like-minded people is a great accomplishment in itself.
"At Penn State, I was still meeting people I should have been collaborating with 25 years after I arrived," says Schultz. In general, he says, it's often the ironic case that research luminaries at big institutions are hard to find. He says the Mizzou campus in general is distinguished by interdisciplinary strength.
Among the research areas represented at the center are DNA, proteomics, cytology and informatics, with projects on topics such as viruses, cataracts and soy breeding collectively representing six colleges and 13 departments at the university. The center pays half the salaries of its resident scientists, whom Schultz describes as "wildly more successful" than the average grant seeker, obtaining between 20 and 25 percent of grants they apply for.
Schultz says the facility is moving toward more economic development purposes since the state's university system officially made economic development a core mission just a few years ago, but "researchers are not under the pressure." Asked how the introduction of economic development to the university's mission has influenced the center, Schultz, a veteran of 30 years at a college of agriculture, says, "It's an interesting puzzle, a yin-yang situation." But just two years in, economics have taken center stage: Schultz cites a more than $130-million economic impact from the center's $70 million in grants.
One branch of influence involves talent cultivation: The Alternative Career Exploration in the Sciences (ACES) group brings in companies to talk to the graduate students and postdocs, or, as Schultz quips, the "increasing numbers of people interested in not being a professor like Dad. That group has placed five of our students in Monsanto."
In addition, Schultz says social events that invite corporate interests in the community to see all the interesting science at the center have already sparked at least two new business ventures.
"We didn't pay attention before," he says of the center's economic influence. "Now we do all the time."
Rob Duncan, vice chancellor for research and professor of physics, says the University of Missouri's total research contracts, grants and fee-for-service contracts tallied roughly $250 million in 2008. He says the growth rate has been seven percent a year, and that's before the federal stimulus package.
"I hope we'll be looking at no later than FY2010 exceeding $300 million in contracts and grants," he says.
The Discovery Process
The Monsanto Business Incubator, a $9-million facility that saw $2 million in support from the St. Louis company, opened in January 2009 on the Mizzou campus, and already has five tenants, including one from the U.K. and another from California that works with ceramic-based fuel cells and distributed energy, which is also working with Missouri S&T.
The incubator is run by Jake Halliday, a tech company entrepreneur who used to run ABC Laboratories
, a pharmaceutical and chemical industry contract research organization that recently moved into a new $14.4-million facility at Discovery Ridge Research Park, a 138-acre development located on former university agricultural land on the south side of the city that has been authorized to expand to 500 acres.
"We're competing with Boston, San Diego, the Research Triangle, Seattle," Halliday says. "We've discovered through our relationship with Petscreen
from the U.K. that they valued three things: one, a university relationship for R&D; two, walk-in ready space; and three, since they have to send their lead person here along with his wife, the quality of life in Columbia is a big part of their decision.
"Tech people tend to focus on tech," says Halliday, who came to Columbia in 1993. "The prospect needs to hear about Columbia. I'm not that intimidated by competition on the coasts, even from larger cities. There's something about a community the size of Columbia. When working with colleagues, I appreciate it all the more – it seems easier to pull us all together in a community this size." Missouri CORE, the 12-county regional economic development group that includes Columbia, educates prospects on the region's assets.
Just behind the incubator sits the only nuclear reactor of any capacity in the U.S. for daily production of medical isotopes. Among the visible luminaries at the nearby International Institute of Nano and Molecular Medicine is Fred Hawthorne, a University of Missouri-Rolla graduate who came to Mizzou from UCLA in 2006, and who recently was awarded the Priestley Award, second in prestige only to the Nobel Prize in chemistry. August 2007 saw the addition of office and lab space and a cyclotron to the reactor complex, something Hawthorne equated to a "biomedical barnraising."
Duncan, a native of St. Joseph, Mo., came back after being out of state for 30 years. He talks about the potential for translational medicine at the university, thanks to an expected $96 million in research funding. He says such a focus fits in well with the animal health corridor in the Kansas City area.
"One place we've been limiting ourselves here at Mizzou is we've been too parochial about the state line," he says. "We really have to embrace KU [the University of Kansas in Lawrence] and KSU [Kansas State University in Manhattan]."
Duncan says it's the era of big bets by universities. Bet No. 1 at Mizzou is translational medicine. The second big bet is to expand radioisotopes and medical/pharma activity at the nuclear reactor. That means a commitment to supply up to 50 percent of market demand for molybdenum 99, a key isotope for medical imaging. Duncan says the $50-million investment will be a public-private partnership that could mean a minimum of $10 million in service fees annually, to be directed back into the university missions of teaching, research, service and economic development.
The Soy Connection
Rolla Renowned for Expertise
When you're in Missouri, turn in any direction and you will probably collide with an engineer. Chances are good that you won't have to calibrate many degrees of separation between that engineer and Rolla.
The campus at Missouri University of Science and Technology (formerly UM-Rolla and, before that, the Rolla School of Mines), located along I-44, is home to some 6,400 students, after a nearly 40-percent rise in enrollment since 2000. It offers degrees in a core group of 16 engineering disciplines, with 19 graduate degree programs. The gender distribution has gone from virtually zero percent female 40 years ago to 25 percent today, and the expected average ACT score of incoming freshmen in 2009 is 28, which is in the top 6 percent.
Toomey Hall opened in spring 2009 on the campus of Missouri S&T in Rolla. Among its amenities is the Center for Aerospace Manufacturing Technology, where the primary industrial partner is Boeing.
Missouri S&T may be a crucial player in helping both its home state and its nation gain some ground on its infrastructure deficit. The school boasts the best structural engineering program in the Midwest, ranked consistently between No. 8 and No. 12 nationally. One successful venture to emerge from its structures lab is Pro Perma
, which has developed a new coating for steel rebar that could solve vexing long-term corrosion and bonding issues for rebar set within concrete.
The lab also works in concert with a relatively new entity, the Leonard Wood Institute, which acts as an economic development and business development entity for the military community of the nearby 63,000-acre Fort Leonard Wood Army Base. During 2008-09, the institute is awarding some $16 million in research funding, all for the purpose of producing useful technologies for the U.S. Army's Maneuver Support Center (MANSCEN) at the fort and at other military organizations. The bonds between the two entities are growing stronger at the same time that the fort is receiving more funding for its own expansion into new missions such as a military police school, combat engineering (materials, bridges) and a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear warfare school.
Joe Driskill, the former head of Missouri Economic Development who now serves as executive director for the Leonard Wood Institute, points to the synergy between the sensor research going on at Missouri S&T and the needs of the base: "It's the number one place to do something about detecting IEDs [improvised explosive devices]," he says. Another example involves use of MRI to detect pathogens in water.
"I'm proud to be a Missourian," says Driskill. "I feel like we're at a nexus of economic growth, with a system that includes technology, research, service and economic development."
"We do more corporate sponsored research than the other University of Missouri schools put together," says one school official. "They want their problem solved." Like Washington University, Missouri S&T is plotting to create a new partnership in that realm to pursue clean coal research.
In gleaming new Toomey Hall is the Center for Aerospace Manufacturing Technology, just established this spring. Boeing, its main industrial partner, pays $200,000 a year for the privilege, gaining steady access to a wide range of human and equipment resources led by the center's dynamic director, Dr. Ming C. Leu.
Missouri S&T is a partner with North Carolina State, Florida State and Florida A&M on one of the newly authorized Energy Frontier Research Centers, focused on electrical power grid and distribution issues. In November, Missouri S&T was selected as one of only two teams in North America to receive a hydrogen fuel cell powertrain as part of the EcoCAR international design competition. Kokam
, the electric battery maker expanding outside of Kansas City in Lee's Summit, has a tight relationship with the school, working on a public transit demonstration project for alternative energy and plug-in electric vehicles.
Dr. John F. Carney III, chancellor of Missouri S&T, explains that one of the motivations for changing the name of the university was that "schools with engineering and science tend to be introverted. I'm convinced this is one of the best technological universities in the country," he says.
Which makes it unsurprising that GE Aviation
chose to locate one of its 10 centers of engineering on campus. The project brings 30 GE engineers in contact with a core group of 60 students. "It's exposed GE to the great research going on here," says Carney.
At its new research park, the school now wants to establish a shared-use facility – the kind of place where 15- to 20-person operations could fit comfortably. The park will occupy about 56 acres of land adjacent to the football stadium that used to be home to a golf course.
Until the university's technology transfer office opened in 2005, commercialization was not the biggest priority, with revenues of less than $100,000. As of 2008, there was just under $400,000 in revenue, and the number of deals had gone from between 10 and 15 a year to 37, with five of those 37 in biomaterials. Licensing deals are up by a similar percentage, or nearly 300 percent in the past three years. Recent patents have come in 16 to 24 months, roughly half the time it normally takes for a patent approval.
Shortly after the tech transfer office opened, the school negotiated a master research and education agreement with Chevron. "The attorney called and said we were the most enjoyable university they've dealt with," says Keith Strassner, director of the Office of Technology Transfer and Economic Development at Missouri S&T, and president of the Rolla Board of Education. "I spent 20 years on the corporate side. We're able to bridge that gap. It's not that difficult once you understand where the parties are coming from." In the past four years, he says, he can think of just one deal that didn't go through.
"The university can't make anything," Strassner says. "I want you to be successful, and to share in that success."
Innovation Pops Up in West Plains and Lebanon
If you think "rural" is synonymous with "removed," you haven't been to the Ozarks of Missouri.
West Plains is a city of 12,000 in a county of 40,000 that's surrounded by the Mark Twain National Forest. The city and its neighboring cities of Willow Springs and Mountain View have stakes in the 120-acre Heritage Business Park, adjacent to West Plains Municipal Airport in the town of Pomona. The communities first came together in the early 1990s in a bid for a major Caterpillar
facility that went to Iowa in the end.
But the collaborative momentum carried over, says Kris Norman, economic development specialist for the City of West Plains, who also happens to be president of the school board. Eventually, CAT located a parts operation for its high-pressure hydraulic division, with an initial $12-million investment in 1998. Ten years later, the operation has expanded once with a $3-million investment, and had doubled its original jobs promise of 125 just prior to 2008.
The town is also the home of defense contractor DRS
, helicopter rescue firm Air Evac
(now with 84 bases in 14 states) and Perennial Energy
, which grew from an idea to convert methane from landfills and manure pits into electricity, hatched in a garage in Dora, Ark. Today the 28-employee company does about $10 million a year in sales, with installations in South Korea, Canada and Chile.
Norman says the 2,000-student West Plains campus of Missouri State University (its main campus is in Springfield) has worked well with CAT and other firms, providing instructors who come to the CAT site. The Missouri State campus has also aligned its core curricula offerings to two days a week to better align with working students, and has developed a two-year associate's program in entrepreneurism, as well as new courses in the electronic gaming arena. On the books for the campus are a new technology center and a computer lab.
At DefBar Systems
in Lebanon, halfway between Rolla and Springfield along I-44 and close to the lovely trout of Bennett Spring State Park, Richard LaBrash, manager and co-founder with Jeff Percival, oversees a 10-person R&D operation in the former city electric building for the making of Zouline, a premium armor system that's been tested by the Army's Aberdeen Testing Center as well as national testing firm HP White.
LaBrash, a native of the region who worked for years in the lead, zinc and silver mines, says Lebanon was positioned well for his business, in part because of geography.
"As our vision grew and the company grew, logistics would be a key element," he says. "Being a truck driver before, I understood the value of the middle of the United States."
He also understood the value of the people in that place.
"The America's Heartland Economic Partnership was very supportive," he says, as was the Leonard Wood Institute with research funding supported by Congressman Ike Skelton. "The universities of our state have been very proactive to develop interfaces that are helpful to start-up inventors or businessmen in general. I believe Senator Bond led the race to create and fund the small business development centers – I interacted with the one in Columbia. I had no idea what it took to get a government contract. They were a great deal of help to get my foot in the door.
"I was a young buck who didn't think anybody could teach me anything," he continues. "Fortunately there are a lot of gifted people at the university who understand they have a role to mentor people like me. I'm grateful for that because I could not accomplish what we do without that support."
LaBrash says his firm has developed armors that fit applications from ultra-lightweight to heavy armor. DefBar stands for deflectional barrier. LaBrash says he developed the idea by shooting at some test panels on a farm.
"What we do directly affects the end result for the warfighter," says LaBrash. The product also has broad applications in the civilian realm. In addition to eventually ramping up manufacturing, LaBrash has worked to build up a vendor network of Missouri-based companies.
Dorsey Newcomb, technical program officer for the Leonard Wood Institute, says the firm is a perfect example of why the Institute was formed in the first place. The $2 million invested at DefBar thus far includes $1.1 million from the Institute.
"They're doing exactly what the process was designed to do," he says. "Take Congressional earmark money and go after defense solutions, and have the economic impact on the state of Missouri."
"I want to see Missouri do good," says LaBrash. "My family came before it was a state. My mission is to develop jobs. We have some near-term expansions planned, and I hope to have those executed by the third quarter of this year."
Solae Planted at Axis of Nutrition
Sparks Fly in Southwest Missouri
If alternative energy and energy storage are industries of the future, then the future is bright in this hot corner of the state.
"There are things happening in southwest Missouri that most people would not believe, let alone be aware of," says Alan D. Marble, Ph.D., president of Crowder College, and part of an enthusiastic crowd gathered in the school's Solar House, which is 100-percent powered by solar energy.
Located in the same community that once was home to the processing of 120,000 soldiers a month at Camp Crowder, as well as the production of rockets and, now, jet engines, the college may be the best-kept educational secret in the state. It's the home of MARET – the Missouri Alternative and Renewable Energy Technology Center – established after the state legislature named Crowder as the state's official renewable energy education center in 1992.
The focus is shared by the stable of companies in the Neosho area, including ABLE Manufacturing & Assembly
An off-the-grid solar house and vehicle are just the outer trappings of the deep and wide alternative energy offerings at Crowder College, in southwestern Missouri.
the bearing manufacturer that's a part of Germany's Schaeffler Group
. FAG started manufacturing in Joplin in 1970.
"We brought in $50 million worth of equipment for wind energy production for bearings," says William "Gene" Bowley, human resources manager for FAG's Joplin operations, which employs 315 people at a 2.1-million-sq.-ft. complex. He says the company works closely on training with Missouri Southern University (in Joplin), Crowder and Franklin Technical College.
Pete Salmon, vice president of manufacturing & supply chain management for the 50-year-old ABLE Manufacturing & Assembly, says the company's work in making truck components, commercial cabs and other structures and assemblies involves thermoformed plastics, composites and steel and metal fabrication. The 440-employee company saw $80 million in sales in 2008. Some are coming from the renewable energy sector.
"We supply customers with fan blade components, feeder components to those types of operations, and other nacelle components," he says, whether made of composite or metal. The company has worked with Crowder on a welding program, put together in about six weeks.
Crowder's focus on alternative energy goes back to the oil embargo of the 1970s, says Dan Eberle, MARET director. Now the alternative energy focus will take shape in a new $13-million 27,000-sq.-ft. facility that's seeing $3 million in federal funding matched by local private donors. Construction began in spring 2009 on the building, which is aiming for LEED-Platinum designation, the highest rating possible from the U.S. Green Building Council. It will serve as a living lab for the college's educational programs, which range from biofuels, geothermal, solar and wind to weatherization and green building, which includes a unique program in energy efficiency during
Marble says the college, which got its start with traditional community college programs in 1963, began vocational programs in 1969, and started to engage more with the business community at that juncture.
"Crowder was the first to go off campus" and set up training in workplaces, says Gib Garrow, director of economic development for the City of Neosho.
Examples of extraordinary partnership abound. There was the time an elementary school was condemned in 1989: "They moved the school out here and those kids went to grade school right here on campus," says Garrow to a room full of smiles. "The kids would go play, and all the elementary education students would do their field work."
Then there was the recent flooding of a major contact center in downtown Neosho operated by Scholastic Inc.
, the children's book publisher, which first came to town in 1998.
"We took them onto campus the weekend of Easter 2008," says Marble. "We started moving them at three o'clock in the afternoon Friday and had 150 people up working here by 11:50 a.m. Monday in our museum. Empire District Electric pulled cable all weekend. Everybody on the Crowder staff helped."
Claude Howard, director of the Neosho-based Alliance for Business, says his organization helps administer state grants and training programs for about 60 companies in a nine-county area, working with Crowder, Missouri Southern and other institutions.
Crowder's unique programs also include a lifetime learning certificate, awarded upon graduation, which entitles the bearer to take one free class per semester at any time. A brand new community YMCA sits just outside the campus boundary, free to dorm students. And the school offers GED and literacy programs, all with the mission of service in mind.
"We're going to try and do it even if people don't think it's in our domain," says Marble. "We're not a branch. We're independent. Neither are we afraid to do things. When people in this room come up with ideas, we're going to chase ideas. Money chases good ideas. And we raise more money than any two-year school in the state."
The school saw enrollment nearly double over the past six years, to more than 3,500 in fall 2008.
From Outer Space to Learning Space
Next door in Joplin, the sense of business-university partnership is exemplified in the relationship between energy storage company EaglePicher Technologies
and Missouri Southern State University, which boasts a student population of just under 6,000.
Like many companies in the area, EaglePicher got its start based on the output of the region's lead mines, making lead acid batteries. Today, EaglePicher's high-end products range from batteries for weapons systems, space satellites and the Hubble Space Telescope to implantable batteries in medical devices.
"More different types of batteries and electrochemistries are being produced and developed in Joplin than under any other roof in the world," says EaglePicher's Bob Higgins, who manages government contracts and the company's research relationships with universities. The 165-year-old company's battery group today employs 800 people, scattered across 26 different electrochemistry centers of excellence.
Darrell Ideker, program manager for EaglePicher Technologies, and Dr. Tia Marie Strait, dean of the School of Technology at Missouri Southern State University, are leading a unique R&D and education program that stands to benefit both Joplin institutions, as well as the state in which they reside.
Darrell Ideker, program manager for EaglePicher and chairman of the board for the Missouri Center for Advanced Power (MOCAP), says the company recently converted one facility into other products from its roots as a nickel-iron battery plant for electric vehicles. A new building houses newly combined R&D efforts. And another new facility has been developed at Joplin's Crossroads Industrial Park for lithium-ion battery development. The company also has a young plant devoted to robotics in nearby Pittsburg, Kan., that opened a few years ago.
Ideker, who has 27 years of experience at the company, calls MOCAP "one of the best examples of industry and education working together that I've ever seen." The idea sprang from a dinner meeting between the former EaglePicher president and a U.S. senator.
"They came up with the brainstorm to combine industry and university sytems for the purpose of R&D and education," he says. "One of our problems at EaglePicher has been hiring qualified engineering students with the type of knowledge they need. Nobody teaches batteries out of college."
MOCAP is a collaboration between EaglePicher and four major universities (Missouri Southern, UM-Columbia, Missouri S&T and Missouri State in Springfield) as well as the Missouri Dept. of Economic Development, Joplin Business and IDC and the Joseph Newman Innovation Center. The goals include establishing a center for specialized course work and research. The MOCAP program is seeing nearly $1 million in state funding from the past two fiscal years.
"We want to be able to collectively go out and search for research funding from government for industry," says Ideker. "Also, each of the universities has excellent R&D capabilities, but all have pretty much operated autonomously, if not competitively, for funding. We thought it might be an opportunity to organize university research resources."
"It's refreshing to see how we've all come together on a common project," says Dr. Tia Marie Strait, dean, School of Technology, Missouri Southern State University. "I've been in higher education since 1991, and this is the first time I've seen universities come together to work on a project that hasn't been competitive."
New measures include the introduction of UM-Columbia engineering programs on the Missouri Southern campus, and the establishment of a center for applied research and training in order to keep the current EaglePicher engineering work force fully up to date. Strait says the engineering program may see its first students in fall 2009, beginning with mechanical engineering and gradually adding other disciplines. The schools will offer a minor in advanced power. Strait says other companies could tie in to the new program as well.
"It may be a nice model for other things," says Higgins. "We've cherry-picked classes from many different disciplines that normally a student would not be allowed to take. There are pieces here you might see in electronics, engineering curricula from graduate classes, and ceramics, that we are bringing down to the undergrad level."
However, such innovation can pose difficulties in finding textbooks. "It could lead into developing textbooks in the future," says Strait.
Marketing the program to students will be another challenge. Pitching EaglePicher employees may be a good starting point.
"We may even require that as a term of employment," Ideker muses. "When we hire a new engineer who's not been through a program like this, we're going to spend a couple years bringing them up to speed anyway."
Strait says it's exciting to be involved in new degrees and minors, programs that will benefit students and also help economic development in the state: "These are the things universities should be about."
Just east of Kansas City, the campus of the University of Central Missouri (UCM) in Warrensburg and the Central Missouri Economic Development Alliance are primed to generate business activity through their region's special combination of start-up firepower and ongoing training and support.
Steve Larson is COO of Minneapolis-based Stealth Mark
, which designs, develops and markets anti-counterfeiting, anti-piracy and fraud protection products. The company currently operates an office in Warrensburg. In addition to his work with the university on its "E-Zone" entrepreneurial program, Larson says, "It's our intent to put a manufacturing facility here as a backup to our facility in St. Paul," pending a resumed flow of capital once the economic crisis wanes.
Mark Manley, interim director of UCM's Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies & Development, says the Institute's work cuts across several overlapping functions, involving companies such as Stealth Mark, radio-frequency equipment firm and DOD supplier X-Com Systems
and diversified trailer manufacturer Space Craft Manufacturing
; students and school technology resources (including a construction and manufacturing college); and rural incubators throughout the region.
In addition to working with a university faculty member with 10 years' experience with the DOD as a cryptologist (referred to the company by Manley), Stealth Mark has also worked with the Leonard Wood Institute to potentially gain some research funding for use of its technology on the battlefield.
Manley says another project funded by LWI featured collaboration with a professor of biochemistry and physics, with the goal of turning waste into fuel at forward operating bases. "As a result of those projects, the faculty member started the CAFEs program – the Center for Alternative Fuels and Environmental Systems – on campus," says Manley. The center's projects now include several related to converting biomass to energy.
Marsha Trautman, owner of Space Craft, says when she bought the company in 1994 the previous owners had allowed frame quality to deteriorate while the firm was on the market, so one of the first things she did was partner with UCM. The school in turn partnered with Allied Signal, and together the parties reached a solution on the frame problem. Today the company employs 19, and expanded its facility within the past two years. Trautman has availed herself of university education and assistance with both marketing and human resources issues.
"The wealth of information I've reaped from the university has been immeasurable," she says.
Another resource in the region is State Fair Community College in Sedalia, which serves more than 3,500 students at four campuses in a 14-county area. Among the school's business partners is ProEnergy Services
, a company based in Sedalia that builds power plants and ships them overseas. The company is working with SFCC and KCP&L on biomass power plant research. Using a grant from the state department of natural resources, the school is evaluating the feasibility of a pilot plant on its own premises.
In the meantime, ProEnergy has a natural marriage with Sedalia and SFCC. Linda Christle, executive director at Economic Development Sedalia-Pettis County, says it's an ideal partnership among a city, county, college, company and utility. She remembers when ProEnergy first announced its arrival in the city in 2006 with a small facility and 23 employees.
"Now, in 2009, they've relocated their corporate headquarters from Atlanta to Sedalia, they're in their ninth building, just bought 52 acres for a turbine facility, and they have 160 employees. The majority are engineers, so it's a very high wage coming into this area.
"Everything is regional with us," she says of the shared success with her economic development colleagues.
Tooled for Success
St. Joe Is Tops for Animal Health and Beyond
If the greater Kansas City region is known for its animal health corridor, then the City of St. Joseph represents a major doorway.
In November 2008, the new Christopher "Kit" Bond Science and Technology Incubator in St. Joseph, Mo., north of Kansas City, welcomed anchor tenant Imulan Biotherapeutics
, as CEO Craig Woods announced the firm would relocate its headquarters and operations there from Prescott, Ariz. The move was spurred in part by the Missouri Quality Jobs Act and the state's Lewis and Clark Discovery Initiative. It also was the first project to use the Missouri Technology Corporation's "Ag Biotech Recruitment Fund," which is contributing funds for build-out costs at the incubator for Imulan.
Located on the campus of Missouri Western State University, overlooking I-29 as it follows the Missouri River toward Nebraska and Iowa, the incubator was backed by a $2.5-million grant from the Economic Development Administration and is a joint partnership between the City of St. Joseph, Buchanan County, St. Joseph Area Chamber of Commerce and the university, which donated the land.
"We received a $250,000 grant from the state to fit out their area," says Dr. Gary Clapp, incubator director, and president and CEO of the university's Institute for Industrial and Applied Life Science. "That, combined with the donation of some furniture to the institution, saved the company a lot of money."
The company, which is working on a vaccine for feline leukemia, also got a $500,000 grant from the county. Woods, the CEO, grew up in a suburb of Kansas City, and has said he and his family will move to St. Joseph soon. Among the incubator's other tenants is the U.S. Animal Health Association.
“It's all about people. That's the
most important factor.”
Major employers in the area include Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica
, based on a business purchase in the early 1980s.
"Since then we have built a new research facility here, expanded our production facility here, made it the global headquarters for vaccine production and recently decided to expand even more in size," says Dr. Bernd Eichenmueller, director of vaccine production and process development for Boehringer Ingelheim. He says St. Joe was chosen for these expansions based on quality of work and work force.
"When I worked for Pfizer and Ciba-Geigy, this region was looked to as the most productive region for crops and agriculture," says St. Joseph Mayor Ken Shearin, calling the area's work ethic second to none. "Any man who can make two ears of corn grow where one grew before deserves more credibility than a whole room full of politicians." Shearin also mentions one other little detail: "The fact we have an airport here that Kansas City pays for makes Boehringer Ingelheim happy too."
"Our facility was a purchased business – St. Joe was seen as a good place to get quality talent in microbiology, and we have a good partnership with Missouri Western," says Chris Feiden, head of St. Joseph operations for Becker Underwood
, a company that produces specialty bio-agronomic products. "We've expanded twice in the past seven years. It's a good spot economically to access the peanut markets in the South, soy markets in the Midwest and markets in Canada." The St. Joe operation specializes in inoculants for seed and soil that aid plants in converting atmospheric nitrogen to support growth.
"It's all about people," says Eichenmueller, who is in the process of establishing an internship program. "That's the most important factor. We need to make sure the education level is adequate for the high-tech systems we have. We have our own intensive program, but the education and scientific background you can only get from the university, and maybe additional courses. We're working with Gary and the Institute and are in the middle of all of that, feeling out what is possible here and in Kansas City as well."
Dr. Gary Clapp, president and CEO of the Missouri Western University's Institute for Industrial and Applied Life Science, also directs its new life sciences incubator in St. Joseph, Mo.
The collaboration extends to the Hillyard Technical Center and the St. Joseph School District, which is currently converting its science curriculum to an emphasis on more hands-on experience and less textbook rote learning. Among the first career paths it's establishing is the life sciences. The St. Joe area's educational assets include a new outreach facility from Northwest Missouri State University, based in Maryville, in order to offer master's level degree programs in education and an MBA program. They complement the new Steven L. Craig School of Business at Missouri Western.
Hillyard offers programs ranging from welding to dental hygiene, and is in the process of establishing a lab technician program with Boehringer, says Director Regenia Briggs. Hillyard is working with the St. Joe school district to establish a Project Lead the Way program in biomedical, after having already done it with pre-engineering.
Dr. Neil Nuttall, president of North Central Missouri College in Trenton, in the north-central part of the state, says a true regional network has gained traction over the last several years, defined by a focus on healthy communities, and by strong articulation agreements among the various higher education institutions. North Central signed a new MOU with Missouri Western in May.
"All of those partners are connected in a manner that benefits the student," says Nuttall, who also serves as president of the Missouri Community College Association. "Our most recent endeavor is alternative fuels. We connected Crowder, Metropolitan Community College and North Central Missouri College, and we'll be able to have a wind energy technician program that will kick off this fall."
At Western, says Jeanne Daffron, associate vice president, academic and student affairs and dean of graduate studies, applied learning has long been the focus. Among the university's 2008 graduates, 89 percent had had significant applied learning experiences working with professionals in their chosen field. The business partnership extends to the school's Western Institute, which executes customized training and work-force development.
"None of these entities can fully realize the potential of our local economy if we don't work together," says Ted Allison, president and CEO of the St. Joseph Area Chamber of Commerce. "No one works alone in their silo."
The communities of Moberly, Mexico and Macon, all perched in a curve just north of Columbia, form a cluster of know-how that is producing a hardy crop of business success.
A group of Moberly officials meets in a room at the offices of the Moberly Area Economic Development Corp. whose walls are adorned with golden shovels marking key company location projects. One key to their success is the Moberly Area Technical Center, which Mark Penny, superintendent of schools for the Moberly Public School District, calls the best kept secret in the state.
"About nine other communities send people to our technical center for training," he says.
Mark Hawkins, a drafting instructor at MATC with 25 years experience in drafting and design for industry, says the rapid prototyping and solid modeling design capabilities of the center's equipment and people help find design flaws "before it gets too expensive." He says having such equipment at the high school level is a rarity, and the district is looking at acquiring more.
Among the companies benefiting is Orscheln Products
, whose presence in the region extends from home and garden stores to high-end industrial part design to real estate development. The company employs about 800 in the Moberly area, and also employs the services of area suppliers, such as Performance Tool, a four-man tool and die shop which does most of Orscheln's injection mold work. Orscheln works with programs at Missouri S&T and institutions in Wisconsin and Michigan on automotive system projects. But it also works with Hawkins' students at MATC.
"A big benefit in this area is our metal fabrication talent and skill base," says Corey Mehaffy, president of the Moberly Area Economic Development Corp. "We could make absolutely everything in a wind turbine nacelle in this community. I think that's a strength in Missouri. Another thing that's key is the work ethic. Barry Orscheln, and Dennis McCarter from the Wal-Mart distribution center, talk about the work ethic in this area. Dennis also consistently talks about the lack of turnover, and no safety or drug issues. In our companies, you see a loyalty you don't often see."
Governor Sees State Turning Corner
The collaborative spirit is evident at the government level too: At a recent public hearing on authorizing an enhanced enterprise zone, Penny, the school system superintendent, showed up to voice his support for the tax abatement.
Dr. Greg Mosier, dean of career and technical education for Moberly Area Community College, says his institution's five locations serve a 16-county area, and include specialized programs in allied health, business and industrial technologies, which includes a two-year industrial applied sciences degree program in power plant management. The school opened its new Entrepreneurship and Business Development Center in May 2009.
Mosier characterizes MACC's enrollment as "explosive," pushing 7,000 students and growing most recently by 25 percent. Mehaffy says the area, with 14,000 in Moberly and 25,000 in the county at large, has seen 10-percent work force growth over the past decade.
The Macon Choice
Known for years as the home of appliance maker Toastmaster, the City of Macon, a town of 5,500, is pursuing new avenues of growth, from ConAgra Foods
' plant investment in the center of downtown to Onshore Technologies
, an effort by St. Louis native Shane Mayes to train and put to work a rural work force in the global outsourcing business.
With a lightning-fast training regimen, Onshore produces Microsoft Certified Application Engineers doing high-level work. One person left a job at a fast-food franchise for the training, and now makes over $50,000 a year. The firm has three locations in Missouri, in Macon, Joplin and Lebanon, employing 50 people thus far.
Denise Bennett, director of Macon County Economic Development, says the community is looking to open a new advanced technology center that will offer specialized courses according to community needs. Jerry Reese, customized training coordinator for Linn Tech, offers evidence of the pent-up entrepreneurial energy of the Macon area: "We just did a needs assessment for this building we're trying to get started, and we got 800 responses," he says.
In the meantime, Jerry Boling, general manager, Ardent Outdoors
, is putting advanced technology to use in growing his business, which makes high-end fishing reels at a 16-person manufacturing plant in town.
"We're the only freshwater fishing reel company in the U.S. at this time," he says. "We've now grown to 19 products, and we're ready to introduce three or four more this year. We do our own design and development here in Macon. We job out some of the parts, but make some ourselves. About 75 percent of our product is made in Missouri – we look hard for Missouri firms to do our die casting and injection molding."
Ardent began from the efforts of St. Louis-based founder David Gregg, who formerly owned a large fishing tackle and equipment dealership in the K.C. suburb of Lee's Summit. Initial production of one product began in that city. When it was time to graduate to larger-scale manufacturing, Ardent solicited indications of interest, and "Macon by far outshone other places," says Boling, in both effort and incentives.
"It's right between St. Louis and Kansas City, and we're able to ship all over the country relatively inexpensively," he says. "I'm from this area. The work ethic is tremendous, there is a ton of available work force, both skilled and unskilled, all of whom are willing to change and do what they need to do to continue their lifestyle in a rural setting.
"We're using the Linn Tech program for customized training," says Boling of a program that's now working with half a dozen Macon businesses. Ardent is in its third year. "It allows us to develop a quality system for our unit. We started with an empty building and making product, and weren't prepared for the growth we were going to see."
William Jewell College and the City of Liberty have worked hand in hand for generations, and today are embarking together on a new stage in the community's development.
At Liberty to Remain
In the northern Kansas City-area community of Liberty, many are finding out what Hallmark Corp.
has known for a long time: Once you're here, there's no reason to go elsewhere. A longtime and influential corporate citizen and major property holder in the area, the company knows a good thing when it sees it. It's just taken a while for the rest of the world to catch up.
"Some of what's going on in Liberty is a process of discovery," says David L. Sallee, president of the city's acclaimed liberal arts institution, William Jewell College. "A lot of people have always thought of it as so far north of the city you'd never want to go there. People have realized that Liberty is not in Iowa."
The education draw starts early, featuring a public school district that ranks in the top 10 nationally in pre-engineering by Project Lead the Way, the national program that next year will expand into biotech skills. Mike Brewer, superintendent of Liberty Public Schools, says the district has been growing at 5 percent annually, and now has 10,000 students. The district boasts seven schools on the Missouri Top 10 list for the state's MAP skills assessment, out of 500 school districts statewide.
"People here just value education," says Brewer. "The last bond, at $58 million, passed with an 85-percent 'yes' vote, the highest percentage in Missouri."
The district's early childhood center for special needs is also a gem, offered free of charge to three- and four-year-olds of families who live in the district. But the real jewel is Jewell, a 160-year-old, 1,100-student liberal arts institution where business, nursing and psychology are the leading majors, and where the pipeline into the business community is well established. Sallee says at last count there were 135 alumni working at Cerner Corp.
, the Kansas City-based healthcare IT systems provider that employs 4,800 of its 7,500 worldwide employees in the metro area.
"The other place where we have an influence bigger than numbers would indicate is biosciences and undergrad research – teaching kids how to be a scientist," says Sallee. As a result, several have gone to work at Stowers Institute for Medical Research, an internationally recognized leader in basic gene and protein research that opened in 2000, and now houses 25 different research programs and up to 500 researchers at any one time.
The college is working with the University of Missouri-Kansas City, NonProfit Connect and American Humanics on developing a center for non-profit leadership. The college is one of a baker's dozen of U.S. institutions offering a degree in non-profit leadership. William Jewell also is known for its internationally known Harriman Jewell classical entertainment event series.
"I don't think it's possible to overstate the economic and cultural foundation that William Jewell is to the city," says Liberty Mayor Greg Canuteson, an alumnus himself. Canuteson was elected by landslide in April 2009 on a pro-growth platform, and plans are being set in motion to follow through on that mandate.
"Liberty still has a lot of open space that's going to be developed, and we have the opportunity to develop it the way we want to in the next 10 to 15 years," says Canuteson. "We're putting in infrastructure, and we're going to bring in a science and technology park. We've started discussions with William Jewell College to explore that opportunity."
Growth may also include an innovation park for suppliers to the Ford Motor Co.
plant in the city, and 400 more acres added on to the Heartland Meadows Industrial Park. Yet another project looking at a 935-acre site is a potential $2-billion new urbanism community.
The growth aims of the area are being guided by the first economic development agency the city has ever had, the public-private Partnership for Community Growth & Development, created in 2003. According to the Partnership's year-end report, the city saw $130 million in new corporate capital investment in 2008. A separate retention and expansion report filed in October 2008 included extremely high rankings in work force quality from area businesses.
"There is an indisputable connection between education and economic development," says Tom Cole, board chair for the organization and director of business development for Barsto Construction. "Had it not been for the quality of our schools, Liberty probably wouldn't have had much of a story to tell."
Judging from the experience of companies across Missouri, the same might be said for the state itself.
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