On the Innovation Center’s Anchor Tenant

Small-town Whitewater is spending about eleven million dollars in federal money and municipal debt for a Technology Park, with a showcase Innovation Center. The amount is more than the annual budget of the city, and it’s federal deficit spending, and municipal public debt, that will make this project possible.

(Note: I will comment generally on the bond issue for the project, and the rating attached to it, tomorrow.)

Here’s an artist’s depiction of the planned Innovation Center:

It’s stylish in a contemporary way.

The Innovation Center has been looking for an anchor tenant, and now it has one: CESA 2, a Cooperative Educational Service Agency.

Here’s the announcement from Whitewater’s city manager, Kevin Brunner:

Anchor Tenant for Whitewater Innovation Center Confirmed This Week

The Cooperative Education Services Administration (CESA) District 2 Board approved a ten-year lease this week for space in the new Whitewater Innovation Center. CESA 2 will be an anchor tenant for the Center and will lease about 10,000 square feet in the new building which is scheduled for construction beginning in early spring.

CESA 2, which is currently leasing space in Milton, provides educational support and training services for over 70 school districts in southern Wisconsin. CESA 2 is expected to bring over 50 full and part-time employees to work at the Innovation Center as well as host daily teacher and administrator training sessions that typically have between 20 and 100 attendees.

As a member of the Whitewater Technology Center Board of Directors, I am very excited about having CESA 2 come to Whitewater and the new Innovation Center. CESA 2 will bring a lot of economic activity and jobs to the community as well as the Whitewater University Technology Park.

What’s CESA? It’s a forty-seven year old state-created agency “to assist districts in providing quality educational opportunities for students….[to] help school districts share staff, services and
purchasing, and provide a link between local districts and the state.”

Much of the work that CESA performs concerns laudable services to schools, including special education students. The CESA branch serving our community is CESA 2. Our CESA serves a large number of districts.

More about CESA is available at the following link:

A few observations on choice of this anchor tenant, for the Tech Park’s Innovation Center.

What’s an Innovation Center and Tech Park?

When one thinks of technology, and innovation, one typically thinks of pioneering American companies, that created products or services that were attractive, and from that attraction, whole new fields and opportunities arose. There’s a good reason for this — America has excelled at this sort of private, entrepreneurial initiative time and again.

For it, we are the envy of the world.

It distorts and stretches the meaning of both innovation and technology to apply it to any organization, anywhere, at any time.

There’s a way, of course — empty and thin — that one might describe most activity as technology-related. One might say that because a taxi company uses two-way radios, it’s a technology-based company.

One might also say that a company whose employees have found a better use for a photocopier in their building has been innovative. Before, they might have stapled documents after copying them; now, they’ve discovered that the photocopier can staple documents for them. That’s hardly an innovation as one would reasonably define it.

In the end, calling something an Innovation Center, or a Technology Park, does not make it so. Yet, the name sounds fancy, surely. The value of the park should depend on the work done, and not the name.

The City of Whitewater might as well have produced an even grander name, something like Genius Enclave, if inapplicability were the goal.

It’s so very characteristic of a limited perspective that one hears about jobs (in this case relocated, not new ones) but not about the cost of those jobs, and whether this community benefits from this multi-million dollar projects as against other possibilities (e.g., tax reduction, reduction of regulations).

There’s also something insubstantial about a bureaucrat insisting that a tenant will produce a ‘synergy’ – that is, literally, interaction of two elements such that the total result is greater than the sum of the two. (See, Brunner’s comments in the interview to which I link, below.)

Easy to say, of course, and saying so sounds very modern. It’s much harder to verify.

Without verification, it’s just another smooth-sounding word, unsubstantiated.

CESA 2 is not a Reasonable Choice for a Tech Park Anchor Tenant

CESA is, I am sure, a fine organization. It’s just not a technology concern, and it never will be, by any reasonable definition. It’s not even a private organization — CESA itself discloses that

“[t]he leading source of CESA funds, in all cases, was revenue from member school districts which totaled $68.1 million, or 63% of all monies received. Revenue from federal ($16.7 million, 15% of the total) and state governments [sic] ($14 million, 13%) were the other major sources of funds.”

CESA isn’t a technology concern — not one bit. It’s a state-mandated agency, feeding from tax dollars, that will fill up space in a technology park built on tax dollars and public debt. I’m sure they do good work; it’s just not a tech enterprise.

Our great find of an anchor tenant amounts to giving a taxpayer-dependent agency about one-quarter of the space in a taxpayer-funded Innovation Center.

We’ve created nothing new and innovative — we’ve relocated an agency from its current location in Milton, Wisconsin. I would say that their loss is our gain, but then Milton’s not spending millions for all of this.

Carts Before Horses.

When a park for technology comes before the demand of technology companies for space in Whitewater, bureaucrats will scramble to fill the place with any tenant. Having departed from a commitment to following private demand, and thus addressing true community needs, the City of Whitewater embarks on a presumptuous project from a few middling bureaucrats and their back-patting supporters.

There’s a story about all this, over at the Daily Union. See, CESA 2 tenant for Tech Park. The story mentions other matters, some of which I will address tomorrow. The story presents unquestioningly Brunner’s opinions on the topics therein. This is unsurprising: it’s part of our sad, local tradition toward officials, and what one fading paper did for so long another now does.

There’s nothing surprising in this – it’s very much to be expected, about the project, its description from Whitewater officials, and in press accounts.

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