Research Park occupancy reaches all time high


Austin Yattoni

More than 100 companies work out of Research Park. It has reached 97 percent occupancy, and all-time high, said Park Director Laura Frerichs.

By Olivia Welshans, Staff Writer

Collaboration between innovative businesses, students and faculty has never been greater as the University’s Research Park receives increased interest from agricultural, financial services and global companies.

The Research Park reached 97 percent occupancy this year, an all-time high, said Park Director Laura Frerichs.

The Research Park is University-owned land intended for research commercialization and allows for businesses, students and faculty to collaborate on new innovations for their companies. According to the Research Park website, it is now home to more than 100 companies and employ more than 600 student interns.

In past years, Frerichs said, the Park has usually only reached 80 percent occupancy, but recently they have been welcoming more companies. Some companies that have joined over the last year include AGCO, Syngenta and Indigo Ag, all agriculturally-based companies.  

The Park has experienced an increase in interest from financial services and agricultural companies, Frerichs said.

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Financial service insurance trading companies, or “FinTech” companies, have become major tech employers out of the University, she said. Capital One, a tenant of the Park, has quickly become one of the top recruiters from the College of Engineering.

“I think that most people assume that companies like Google, Microsoft or Facebook are top employers, but one of the trends that we’re starting to see is a opportunity for FinTech companies to offer very exciting jobs,” Frerichs said.

The increase in financial service companies in the Park reflects an increase in overall interest in technology from these types of companies. PwC, a global assurance, advisory and tax services company, said in their 2017 Global FinTech Report that financial institutions are expected to increase internal innovation efforts by 77 percent over the next three to five years.

Country Financial, a financial services and insurance company, is the Park’s most recent tenant, opening their offices Nov. 3.

Julia Hart, site leader for newly-opened Country Financial DigitaLab, said the company wanted close access to all the talent at the University and have the possibilities of collaboration with faculty on projects.

The goal of the DigitaLab is to develop mobile applications that enhance the customer experience and create brand awareness, she said.

“They are looking at ways to really make a customer experience much easier when they access their insurance or financial information by using mobile apps,” she said.

Frerichs has also noticed an increase in tenants from agricultural companies. Tenants within this field include John Deere, DOW Agrosciences and ADM Sustainable Bioenergy Modeling Center.

Many agricultural companies turn to the University’s Research Park because of the excellent agriculture and engineering programs, which are becoming more important in precision agriculture, she said.

“The worlds of agriculture and technology have melded together, so you see a lot of the ag companies needing both agronomy expertise and technology expertise,” she said.

Several global companies have opened offices over the past year. Syngenta, a Swiss-based seed company, and Huawei, global information and communication technology company based in Shenzhen, China, have chosen Illinois as a location for innovation.

Huawei, joining on Oct. 24, said in its company description that they joined the Park wanting to collaborate with students, scholars and researchers to explore innovations in software technology.

The company wishes to establish a “Huawei Champaign Center of Excellence” to focus on projects like language design and performance optimization.

The Park has several companies lined up to give their official openings soon, Frerichs said. Brunswick Corporation, an owner of many lifestyle brands, will have their grand opening on Dec. 11, and Synchrony Financial, a credit card issuer to many retailers, will also have its opening soon.

For many companies, like Country Financial, the Research Park is their first time setting up an operation on a college campus, Frerichs said. There is a demand for tech talent within the companies that come to the Park, she said, and they are willing to step outside their comfort zones to get it.

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