TechWorks Progress Steady

posted on Monday, February 10, 2014 in Blog

21 hours ago • By Jim Offner

WATERLOO | Mark Kittrell issued a challenge to attendees at the Cedar Valley Manufacturing Conference this week at Hawkeye Community College.

Kittrell, president of the Des Moines-based Iowa Innovation Corp., told an estimated 200 representatives from area manufacturers that the nascent Iowa Advanced Manufacturing Center, which will operate at Cedar Valley TechWorks, will need their input on how to push industry forward in the state — and build it in the Cedar Valley.

The center is the focal point of the effort, he said, since it will bring together new technology, expertise and research on the 30-acre campus in downtown Waterloo.

Planners say the center will be open in the middle of this year.

The center will offer new services to manufacturers, including an industrial business incubator, acceleration services, modeling and simulation, industrial laboratories, production equipment and access to ideas and graduates from universities and community colleges as well as ways to improve manufacturing processes.

“I think it will serve as a place, and a group of people are going to help bring together a lot of resources across the state into one place, where people come and say, 'Hey, I've got a new manufacturing company. I've got a new product I need. I'd love to figure out how I can get this thing done,'” Kittrell said of the center's relationship with the manufacturing community.

“That kind of question is being dealt with all the time. That's the primary role. What impact will it have in the Cedar Valley?”

There are several similar initiatives taking shape across Iowa, but the center at TechWorks will play a particularly important role, Kittrell said.

“We're built on this stuff,” he said. “The reason why a community like the Cedar Valley exists is to build things, I think, because of TechWorks, that sort of history, the legacy that's here, the opportunity to really show we can move the needle ahead in this community by bringing more R&D and more manufacturing back to this area.

“If we can do that, we'll be a national model,” Kittrell said. “We'll be the kind of place where people will say we're going to be doing more of that and look to us as innovator.”

Iowa Innovation Corp. and the Greater Cedar Valley Alliance & Chamber are working together to build the Advanced Manufacturing Center, said Steve Dust, CEO of the Alliance and president of TechWorks.

“You've already seen pieces of it with UNI's Metal Casting Center up and running, so you're getting a hint of what we're talking about,” Dust said.

Attendees at Wednesday's conference got a tour of the Metal Casting Center and a demonstration of its new 3-D printer late in the afternoon.

The center will begin to take tangible shape at TechWorks shortly, Dust said.

“A part of that same appropriation were dollars to improve two floors of our Tech 1 building for that hub of advanced manufacturing, and that construction activity will begin in just within a few weeks within that building,” he said. “So, you'll start to see physical changes happening to accommodate the growth of the center in the building.”

The Advanced Manufacturing Workgroup is led by Sarah McDonald Hasken, vice president of A.Y. McDonald Manufacturing Co., and Glenn Baker, director of global manufacturing and enterprise services at John Deere. It includes leaders from advanced manufacturing firms across Iowa and also includes representatives of the state universities, community colleges, state government, engineering, business associations and economic development leaders.

Among local participants in the work group are David Takes, president of Doerfer Cos.; Mark Hanawalt, president and CEO of United Business Equipment Inc.; Marvin Schumacher, president of Schumacher Elevator; Jerry Thiel, UNI Metal Casting Center director; Linda Allen, president of Hawkeye Community College; and TechWorks representatives Cary Darrah, Wes James and Dust.

The Advanced Manufacturing Workgroup will hold a series of industry focus group sessions around the state to discuss the issues faced and needs of small and medium-size manufacturers. Focus group sessions are scheduled in March through mid-April across the state.

Kittrell said there's a potential for 37,000 manufacturing jobs that bring wages of $50,000 or more.

“These are good jobs,” he said.

Kittrell challenged each attendee at Wednesday's conference to ponder how the new center can help their companies.

“We ask them what would you like to see,” Kittrell said. “They say, 'We'd like to look to this place as being the place where we can have a good gauge of what new technologies are coming out.’

“Second,” he said, “they said what new processes and materials will be important for us. Then, they had the three things that you'd expect to see: They're looking for help with workforce. They're helping very much with education and entrepreneurship kind of work. And they're looking for guidance on how do they finance the kind of growth they're working for.”