Developing a true regional venture

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:33 pm

The Center for Advanced Technology and Innovation (CATI), a Sturtevant-based nonprofit agency that promotes business and helps companies and entrepreneurs connect with new technologies, is planning to expand its operations into Milwaukee and Waukesha counties.
If the project receives the federal grants it has applied for, a new office will open this fall in the Milwaukee County Research Park’s Innovation Center in Wauwatosa, where CATI officials will work with partners in the Waukesha County Economic Development Corp. (WCEDC) and Milwaukee County Research Park Corp.
In other words, a Racine County concept will be expanded to Milwaukee County, where it also will serve Waukesha County.
It’s a kind of regional cooperation that has become rare in southeastern Wisconsin.
If the project is successful, it will improve the manufacturing industry in the region, according to officials with those organizations.
They say there is a need for regional cooperation to increase innovation and product development in the Milwaukee area, because people outside the region tend to think of it as one entity and do not pay attention to municipal boundaries.
"When you look at the economy and understand how regional it is, and then you look at the solutions and understand how regional it is, the solution is obvious," said Dan Boyce, a consultant with the Milwaukee County Research Park.
Instead of duplicating the services that CATI provides in Racine County through their own agencies, they plan to expand CATI’s offerings to Milwaukee and Waukesha counties.
"We had been looking to do pretty much the same thing (as CATI)," Boyce said. "But we knew from the beginning that we needed to be regional in scope – we’ve got to talk to each other. We discovered they had a successful model in Racine County. And we have the space here at the Research Park, and it makes logical sense to be here."
Matt Wagner, director of CATI, said the nonprofit firm has applied for federal Housing and Urban Development funds through the office of U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.).
CATI, the WCEDC and the Milwaukee County Research Park will try to raise private sector funds for the new office as well, he said.
CATI was started in 2001 in Racine County to assist small and mid-level companies develop "bleeding edge" technologies, Wagner said. The initiative works in two ways, through a "push and pull" system.
The push comes from making arrangements to acquire unused or under-used intellectual property from large companies. The vast majority of applied research is done by private enterprise, with the goal of developing patents or new products that will be developed, Wagner said. But only 25 to 30 percent of those patents are used by the companies that develop them, he said.
"Most of them are shelved or can’t be used," Wagner said. "(Large companies) put a lot into R&D, but they can’t use everything."
CATI has about $40 million in intellectual property assets, he said, which are available for entrepreneurs or small- to medium-sized companies for future development. In some cases, the ideas or products are donated, and in other cases there are out-licensing agreements, where the developer of the product and developer of the innovation agree to some sort of fee for the use of the product or idea.
"That way, the host and innovator both benefit," Wagner said. "These are ways to create innovation by private industry that can be used by private industry."
CATI’s pull is implemented through its ability to connect companies in need of new technology or experts for product development with technology or experts.
"They can use our program to find the expertise or technology they need," Wagner said.
Wagner, Boyce and Bill Mitchell, executive director of the WCEDC, said the new office in the Milwaukee County Research Park should be open by this fall. The new office will be staffed with employees from the three participating agencies, they said.
Even though Waukesha County has not had as much manufacturing job loss as Racine or Milwaukee counties, the time is right to begin thinking about regional solutions, rather than ignoring the problem, Mitchell said.
"It makes more sense to have more people at the table," he said. "Racine took a 60,000 job loss. I don’t have that. Milwaukee doesn’t have that. But I don’t want to wait."
Boyce and William Drew, executive director for the Research Park, had been in talks about expanding CATI to Milwaukee and Waukesha counties with Wagner since March. Mitchell was invited to participate by Boyce and Drew.
"I give Dan and Bill (Drew) a lot of credit," Mitchell said. "It takes an amount of organizational courage to do it jointly."
"The potential is enormous," Boyce said.
Getting manufacturers, officials from CATI, WCEDC and the Research Park and other agencies talking will be one of the crucial functions of the new CATI office, Mitchell said.
"This will allow manufacturers to workshop," he said. "And there will be an opportunity for manufacturers in the seven counties (in southeastern Wisconsin) to start working together. It will give them an opportunity to slow job loss and grow on a regional basis. This could lead to the training, workforce development and funding communities to do some centralization. I believe it will get the momentum going."

On the Web
For more information on the three agencies working to expand the Center for Advanced Technology and Innovation (CATI) services to Milwaukee and Waukesha counties, visit the following Web sites:
CATI: www.thecati.com
Waukesha County Economic Development Corp.:
www.understandingbusiness.org
Milwaukee County Research Park Corp.: www.mcrpc.org

June 24, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI

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