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ABB puts Wauwatosa's Innovation Park on the map

Development will make city investment secure

Jan. 15, 2013

The announcement that ABB will be building a $13.5 million facility in Innovation Park bodes well for future development of the park, and, not incidentally, goes a long way toward recovering city costs related to the site, city officials said.

And, for ABB, the planned facility provides "an opportunity for cross-pollination between the university academic side (and) ABB as a potential employer for new talent coming out of the university. It sets up a natural marriage between those interests," said ABB spokesman Ken Graber.

Innovation Park lies within a tax incremental financing district, which allows the city to capture increases in property tax to repay the money it laid out to build infrastructure.

The construction of the ABB facility, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Innovation Accelerator building, and the increased value to the land within the park will produce a tax increment that will pay for the debt associated with building Discovery Parkway, and underground parking for ABB employees, over the 27-year life of the TIF district, said city Finance Director John Ruggini.

"The estimated value of those three components is $33.1 million, and the tax increment value of those three components … is going to be about $17.6 million projected over the life of the TIF," Ruggini said.

The underground parking - to be built under the ABB building - is an important element in that it will save green space, Ruggini said.

'Putting the campus on the map'

Ruggini said getting that first private occupant of the park so quickly is an important first step.

"Nothing contributes to success like success," he said.

City Development Director Paulette Enders agreed.

"From the standpoint of the first corporate development, it's a global company, a well established company, and it fits into … the vision of innovation campus," she said.

Enders has been known to say that development is a slow process, but she said, "sometimes it's not slow, right? I would say it was quick. In the development world it would be looked at as a relatively fast-paced project."

ABB's arrival, she said, "absolutely does put the campus on the map."

The UWM Real Estate Foundation owns the park, and its president, David Gilbert, said it says a lot that ABB, a power and automation technologies company, would choose the park.

"They don't do this on a whim, they do extensive research," he said. "They have worldwide experience in terms of best practices, and then they chose us. … It's a well-thought-out initiative by a global corporation that says this is really something makes a lot of sense for their business."

Gilbert called the university's initial commitment to Innovation Park "a calculated risk."

"We know this model works, we know where it's worked well, and we've tried to follow best practices in other organizations around the country that have been successful, including the Centennial Campus (in North Carolina)," which happens to be the location of another ABB facility, Gilbert noted.

"We knew the concept was a valid one," he said. "We didn't have tenants lined up and we didn't have land, and we didn't have zoning, and all the other things, but, you know, one step at a time, we're getting there."

Increasing demand

Graber said demand for ABB products has driven growth at ABB's manufacturing site at 16250 W. Glendale Drive in New Berlin. To accommodate the growth, non-manufacturing functions, such as sales, marketing and product management, were moved to a temporary site, and those people, together with others at a leased site in New Berlin, will make up the 350 that will move to Innovation Park, Graber said.

The products that are made in New Berlin include electric-vehicle fast-charging stations, which can charge an electric car in 15 or 20 minutes, and medium voltage motor drives, which Graber called "the intellectual brains that accelerate and de-accelerate a motor." These are used in commercial engines, such as those that run heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems or industrial processing motors.

"We make thousands and thousands of these for shipment," he said.

Graber said engineering talent, such as produced by area universities, is in demand. Electrical and mechanical engineers are "kind of what you call the base gold to this operation."

At the same time, with sales growing, assembly and operational personnel will be added at the New Berlin facility to support increased capacity.

Graber said he couldn't predict how many new jobs may be created.

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