SHEBOYGAN – The city of Sheboygan hopes to transform Indiana Avenue into an entrepreneurial utopia with an “innovation district” that could help attract and retain talented employees to area companies.
The vision of the Innovation Community would be to create a public and private partnership in an effort to build a thriving talent magnet for innovation and entrepreneurship along Sheboygan’s Indiana Avenue.
“This is really organic, grass-roots effort to get all the different pieces of the puzzle happening all over the county as it relates to entrepreneurship development, innovation, research and development funneled into one ultimate area being the Indiana Avenue Corridor,” said Chad Pelishek, Sheboygan’s director of planning and development.
The onset of the district is already visible at S. 10th and Indiana, where the city has purchased riverfront property and begun demolition of blighted buildings in the area.
The long-term vision of the innovation community would see the construction of multiple buildings that would be utilized to encourage collaboration between research-oriented institutions, existing companies, tech firms and creative start-ups.
One central building would serve as the epicenter, where the city, in partnership with area companies and the Sheboygan County Economic Development Corporation, would develop programs and services to advance ideas and the entrepreneurial spirit.
“It would be a multi-discipline building, which would ultimately house a number of accelerator programs, networking space, and maker space — all of that stuff where these people can come and collaborate with people of their discipline,” Pelishek said.
Officials hope the development will fuel the continued expansion of existing local companies, while providing infrastructure and support for new ideas or concepts to spur new business development in Sheboygan County.
The Innovation Community is also designed to attract and retain talent to area companies currently struggling to fill positions by providing opportunity for employees to collaborate with other like-minded individuals in a unique, innovative setting.
“For decades Sheboygan County has been suffering from ‘brain drain’ of some of our best and brightest to Milwaukee, Chicago, and the coasts, even at a time that we have some of the most innovative companies in the world headquartered here,” said SCEDC’s business development manager Jim Schuessler. “It is clear that having jobs alone is not enough to attract and retain talent.”
Companies would agree to invest or partner with the concept and allow employees the opportunity to come to the location, away from their company, to network and work on developing innovative ideas or products.
“An example would be an industrial engineer getting together with other industrial engineers and tinkering to develop products,” Pelishek said. “They would probably all work for different companies, but could collaborate together. The companies understand that if they get their creative juices flowing with other like-minded people, they can take those ideas back to their company and institute new products.”
Officials hope the Innovation Community would spark idea generation and experimentation, leading to advancements in product development and possibly the establishment of new cutting-edge businesses in Sheboygan County.
“A lot of entrepreneurs have the ideas, but don’t necessarily have the capital and the networks to market that concept yet,” Dane Checolisnki, director of the SCEDC, said. “Likewise, you have the businesses who have the capital, but don’t always have the ideas. So you’re trying to stir this giant spot of molasses to get the creative juices flowing and, hopefully, an idea or two pops that could be a multi-million dollar business or multi-million new division of an existing company.”
City and SCEDC staff toured similar innovation districts in various stages of development throughout the United States before expanding the concept to Sheboygan.
The first step in developing the Innovation Community will be to complete a feasibility study and work with area businesses to find partners interested in investing in the idea. It’s a long term vision unlikely to see shovels in the ground any time soon, but according to Checolinski, getting the right partners around the table will move the needle in the right direction.
“We have to provide the environment where people can have hope and optimism. Nobody moves or stays in a community where it’s doom and gloom,” he said. “It’s all about making people feel ownership over problems where they can have input in solving.”
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