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Joliet in talks to bring high-tech business incubator to downtown

Brock A. Stein | 7/5/2017, 11:28 a.m.
A high-tech business incubator could set up shop in Joliet when the city council considers a redevelopment agreement on July ...
Concept art of Innovation Pavilion, a business incubator in talks to build a campus in downtown Joliet. City of Joliet

A high-tech business incubator could set up shop in Joliet when the city council considers a redevelopment agreement on July 18.

The Innovation Pavilion, a high-tech incubator based in Colorado has been meeting with Joliet officials over the past year to work out the details for the deal said economic development director and assistant city manager Steve Jones.

Jones said that the city will hear more details about the project at the July 13 economic development committee meeting and would discuss it with the city council at the July 17 pre-council meeting before voting on measure on the 18th.

The incubator in Centennial, Colorado focuses on “the internet of things”—devices that work in the background and that communicate with other devices.

The company is looking to build several more similar campuses at second-tier cities around the U.S. that are near major metropolitan areas with access to mass transit and already has agreements with cities in Colorado and Kansas.

Jones said that representatives from the company “were blown away by the physical assets and the things we have to offer” in Joliet.

The company is considering two city-owned sites, one north of Harrah’s Casino along the Des Plaines River and the other at the former Lyon’s Lumber site south of Joliet Central High School near the intersection of E. Washington St. and S. York Ave. and the Rock Island Metra Station.

Jones said that a delegation from city hall travelled to Colorado in the fall to visit the campus there and “were impressed with what we saw.”

Joliet Mayor Bob O’Dekirk said that he came away from the visit impressed by the number of Silicon Valley executives who were interested in investing in the business.

“It’s an exciting concept,” said the mayor who said that the city was still working out the incentives package before the July 18th council vote.

Bringing a high-tech business incubator to the city’s downtown would add another layer or what Jones calls “slices” to the business landscape in Joliet which includes retail, manufacturing, logistics and health care.

“We don’t have this kind of high tech presence,“ said Jones adding that the campus would “be kind of game changer for downtown” changing the town’s “rust belt” image to “a high tech center.”

In addition it could also help encourage new businesses to settle in the city with most incubator sites looking for new businesses to get established, find funding, and then move out on their own.

“You grow to a certain point then you’re gone,” he said hoping that some busiensses when they are big enough to leave the incubator will choose to stick around Joliet.

Philip Hsiao, Director of Corporate Innovation Management at Innovation Pavillion said that representatives from the company like the enthusiasm they saw from city officials for what he describes as a public/private partnership.

Hsiao said that the company has a developer lined up for the project which he said would inject about $30-$60 million in to one of the campuses. He said they were still working with the city to determine the mix of tax incentives for the project but would ask for $200,000 in city funding to help underwrite the $500,000 that will be invested in preliminary development costs for the Joliet campus.

“It sort of acts as the skin in the game as well,” he said adding “if it’s all on us it’s a waste of our time and their time”if the deal doesn’t progress. Once it’s constructed and up and running he said they don’t ask for anymore investment from the host city.

“After the campus is built we have a very robust plan to make it self-sustainable,” he said.

Hsiao said that development of the campus, each of which is customized to the needs of the communities where they’re built, could take about 1-2 years to complete.