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Fishers planning tech incubator: Town hires former IU Emerging Technology Center chief to lead biz park

July 14, 2008

Fast-growing Fishers has the kind of assets economic developers dream about-strong schools, affordable housing and median family income of $81,971. Now the town wants to build on that foundation by adding a high-tech business park to its list of amenities.

"Businesses are looking to come to a site where they can find employees with the requisite level of education and the ability to get additional education close by. Education is the key," said Fishers Town Council President Scott Faultless. "We have a tremendous school system, and I think that's going to be the distinguishing feature that makes our site a little more attractive."

This month, the Fishers Economic and Community Development Corp. hired Mark Long to spearhead development of the new Fishers Research and Technology Campus.

Long, 53, led Indiana University's Research and Technology Corp. from 2002 until early this year and built the Emerging Technologies Center, the college's showcase business incubator on Indianapolis' Central Canal. He now runs his own consultancy, Long Performance Advisors, and teaches entrepreneurship at IU's Kelley School of Business.

Under Long, the ETC attracted 26 hightech startups-or 90-percent occupancy-within two years of opening. Seven of those startups "graduated" within four years, when they were large enough to stand on their own. Among the notable "graduates" are biomedical services firms The Haelan Group, Indiana Health Information Exchange, Safis Solutions LLC and Aledo Consulting.

Now, Long is attempting to duplicate the success in Fishers. With the help of the town's leaders, Long is evaluating possible sites for a 40,000- to 50,000-square-foot building that will offer wet laboratories, high-speed connectivity and plenty of room for entrepreneurs to expand their startups. The town won't yet reveal the parcels it's considering, but Fishers Chamber of Commerce CEO Christi Wolf said it's down to a handful.

"You want to make the space as flexible as possible so we can make adjustments as companies need it," Wolf said.

Like the ETC, Fishers' facility will provide shared conference space and a network of professional consultants, such as attorneys and accountants, who can mentor budding entrepreneurs.

Fishers hopes to have the $12 million building's doors open within 18 months. It is planned as the first in a series of new high-tech facilities.

"The time is right for an area like Fishers because of the situation with energy pricing, people not wanting to commute long distances, pay the high prices of gasoline and sit in traffic," Long said. "I think it's going to take off."

Once a suburban bedroom community, Fishers had a population of 7,200 in 1990. Today, it's about 70,000.

The town has considered building a technology park for nearly four years-and has been discussing the idea with Long from the start. But Long said before Fishers could proceed with the project, it had to cultivate business prospects to locate there.

"Everybody wants to build an incubator, and they think that'll be a solution to a problem. But the issue is deal flow and pipeline," he said. "A lot of people want to do the 'Field of Dreams' thing-'Build it and they will come'-which doesn't always work."

So Fishers officials began attending major high-tech economic development events, such as the Biotechnology Industry Organization's annual international conference. They also opened discussions with local high-tech business leaders.

Mark Kosiarek, CEO of Fishers-based VAI Technology, for example, is excited about the project. The semiconductor maker, which has operated in Fishers for 10 years, has 26 employees and will have plenty of choices when it seeks more. Kosiarek said his business will soon outgrow its current space, thanks to the life sciences industry's demand for semiconductors.

Fishers' abundance of highly skilled labor makes it a great place to expand a business, he said.

"There is a great opportunity for these knowledge-type of jobs," Kosiarek said. "Given the fact that there's a good diverse work force here now."

Fishers doesn't just want to give its knowledge-workers a place to earn a paycheck. It also wants to make it easy for them to collaborate. Jim Hill, an architect for Indianapolis-based BSA Lifestructures, helped the town lay out its plan for its Research and Technology Campus. He said it emphasizes shared space, with walking paths between buildings, shared retail and plenty of space for possible housing developments.

"The idea is, we were trying to create a walking-type campus, where people could walk if they wanted lunch or even walk to work if they wanted to. To try to create a place with a large variety of different things," Hill said. "The opportunity was there to create a unique high-technology campus. We were trying to create a life sciences community, you might say, with interaction and sharing of ideas."

It will likely take years for Fishers to realize the full ambition of its technology park plan.

In addition to selecting a site, it must also raise private money for the new building's construction.

But Hill expects the project to move along a fast track.

"If Mark Long is there, obviously they're getting serious," he said. "I'll put it that way."
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