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In October, the City Council, acting as the Economic Development Authority, authorized a request for proposals for a feasibility study regarding an innovation center which may be anchored by a university. Innovation centers are buildings owned or rented in conjunction with a college campus. These centers are not only used for classes, but they can also be an incubation hub for small businesses or can include shared office space for start-ups.
“It’s a model we’ve seen work in other communities,” said Economic Development Specialist Jennifer Brewington. “Universities aren’t just catering to traditional students anymore, and these sites provide non-traditional students the option to learn amongst their peers.”
The city and Scott County have been in discussion with Minnesota State University – Mankato about the possibility of offering classes in the area for high school seniors, those seeking to complete their college or graduate program or those enrolled in employer-supported training. The center is expected to attract students not only from Shakopee, but also Chanhassen, Chaska and portions of Scott County. “There are already many students in the region enrolled at the university who make the trip to Mankato daily, and this center would allow them to take classes without having to travel over 100 miles round trip,” said Director of Planning and Development Michael Kerski.
Creating an innovation center was an idea championed, in part, by the Envision Shakopee comprehensive plan process. “One thing we heard from both residents and employers is that there is a need for an additional training option in Scott County,” said Kerski, “and that includes post-secondary options.”
Beyond college courses, the site could be used for specialized staff trainings. The university could offer lecture series, leadership courses or other short-term courses in the space. But, the purpose of the innovation center is two-fold. Centers like the one proposed in Shakopee would allow for co-working space for small businesses in the area and shared offices for start-up businesses. “The idea is that this place could be used by new entrepreneurs to not only have a physical location for meetings, but also for them to get their start and hopefully want to stay and invest in Scott County,” said Brewington.
The feasibility study will look at many factors, including market demands, cost and necessary enrollment size. For now, the Council and city staff are focused on building in the downtown area of Shakopee. Although long-term investment from businesses using the facility may be months or years away, short-term benefits could come soon after the facility opened. “What happens when students, employees or employers are located right downtown? They eat, shop and spend their money there too,” said Brewington.
The study is expected to be completed in February of 2019, at which point the City Council, in cooperation with Scott County, will explore funding options.