October 16, 2010

New Ennovation Center gives chances to grow

By Jeff Fox - jeff.fox@examiner.net

Jennifer Ward says this is the chance for her business to really grow.
The Lee’s Summit resident started Be Free Bakers a year ago, operating out of a church to make her vegan, gluten-free, whole-grain products, from cookies to pizza. Now she’s one of the first clients in the new Independence Regional Ennovation Center, which opens Monday.

Ward, running a mostly one-person operation, has been selling to restaurants and coffee shops, and in the new space she can expand. She’d liked to be in grocery stores next.
“Fantastic next step. ... I’m very excited,” she said during an open house Thursday.
Businesses such as Ward’s are just one type that Independence Economic Development, which runs the business incubator, hopes to target.
The Ennovation Center is on the site of old Independence Regional Health Center. The building at 201 N. Forest Ave. in western Independence has been extensively renovated and now includes:
  • Kitchen space that businesses can rent for as much time as they need. Three businesses are signed up, and another 30 have applied.
  • Eight old surgical suites on the second floor converted to bio-tech labs ranging from 600 to 1,400 square feet. The labs have specific features such as purified water, fume hoods and redundant power sources, plus companies can save money by using the center’s shared facilities and services such as conference rooms and administrative support.
“We’re really geared to entrepreneurs,” said Jenni Mann, communications manager for Independence Economic Development.
  • The offices of Independence Economic Development, which moved in earlier this year.
  • Space for the Independence School District, which plans to move all of its administrative offices to the site in January or February.
Tom Lesnak, president of Independence Economic Development, said the redevelopment of the old hospital only happened because of how the city of Independence structured the tax incentives for Centerpoint Medical Center.
HCA opened Centerpoint, in southeastern Independence, in 2007, at the same time it closed the old Independence Regional as well as the Medical Center of Independence. Part of the $44 million tax-increment financing agreement for the new hospital included a $12 million pool of money to find new uses for the two old hospitals. The city agreed to put $10 million of that into the Ennovation Center, and the school district has added another $5.5 million.
Now that the facility is up and running, it should be easier to sell space to biotech companies, and Lesnak said it has features not found elsewhere in the area.
“It’s a product. It’s one more thing we can sell,” Lesnak said. “ ... It’s a product nobody else has got.”