Sheboygan forms innovation district

FreshTech aims to foster collaborative ideas

A rendering of the LaunchPad facility planned for the FreshTech Innovation District.

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:04 pm

The Sheboygan County Economic Development Corp. has named the new business district being formed south of downtown Sheboygan the FreshTech Innovation District.

A rendering of the LaunchPad facility planned for the FreshTech Innovation District.

Using a $32 million tax increment financing district, the City of Sheboygan has been working to redevelop a 108-acre area that encompasses the downtown, the 15-acre former Pentair property at 502 Indiana Ave. that is owned by Blue Harbor Resort, and areas along the Sheboygan River. It stretches from South 14th Street on the west, along Indiana Avenue to Lake Michigan.

An innovation district is a small geographic area where entrepreneurs and universities can get together and share ideas and development opportunities for the market, said Dane Checolinski, director of the SCEDC. The FreshTech area is the first innovation community in Wisconsin, he said.

“It is creating a high-energy urban environment where people are creating their industry futures, so it does a great job at attracting and retaining talent,” Checolinski said. “We are anticipating that at first it will be existing businesses in Sheboygan County, but we ultimately anticipate over time, companies will see the benefit of locating in a high-energy urban environment. We’re trying to drive an entrepreneurism frame of mind.”

SCEDC plans to build a brick-and-mortar LaunchPad innovation hub at the former J.J. Koepsell Co. site, 1010 S. Ninth St., to serve as a gathering space for events, and house administration, higher education and Class A office space, he said. A U.S. Small Business Administration Small Business Development Center is expected to relocate to the LaunchPad. The SCEDC hopes to have the facility completed by September 2020, in time for the Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits, north of Sheboygan.

The innovation district will be programming driven, Checolinski said. The first event will be an Innovation Summit for area businesses and educators to plan the programming.

In light of the changing demographics and industry trends in the Sheboygan area, he said this effort aims to develop an ecosystem that allows major companies to remain headquartered in Sheboygan, while forming an area where young talent can feel comfortable and explore new ideas.

“A tremendous opportunity is to stay on the cutting edge of research and development,” Checolinski said. “Create an environment where research and development can thrive. And that’s not necessarily high-tech.”

“The urban core of Sheboygan is the cultural center of our community. We have art centers, urban parks, a beautiful waterfront, shopping, dining, entertainment and now we need higher education and corporation headquarters,” Sheboygan Mayor Michael Vandersteen said in a statement. “FreshTech will complement those uses and provide value to the firms that want to surround their employees with quality of life amenities that will aid in talent attracting and retention.”

“The SCEDC has been working hard to solve the local labor challenges, including building housing and partnering on Someplace Better,” said Gary Dulmes, SCEDC chair, in a statement. “Now we must focus on a long-term strategy to ensure Sheboygan County builds a strong talent magnet for technical talent and entrepreneurs needed to sustain companies and area in this era of global competition.”

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Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.

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