Milwaukee, WI Selected As Global Hub For New Energy Innovation Center

Posted by Heidi Schwartz

Gov. Scott Walker
Gov. Scott Walker

Officials from the Mid-West Energy Research Consortium (M-WERC) joined Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and others to unveil plans for the new Energy Innovation Center (EIC), a facility that will accelerate the development of innovative technology in the energy, power and control industry.

The center’s mission is to affirm and leverage the Midwest’s standing as a global hub for the industry by providing a collaborative space designed to attract, grow and develop companies.  The center will bring together industry and academic scientists, engineers and business leaders to conduct joint research, jump-start innovative technologies, transition prototype products to the commercial stage, and nurture startup companies.

The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) has awarded M-WERC more than $850,000 in grants for the center. The project also received a $50,000 grant from the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority. In 2013, the City of Milwaukee also provided a $122,000 grant for energy-saving upgrades at the building as part of its Me2 Program.

“With the Energy Innovation Center, M-WERC will establish a fully integrated ecosystem for companies, individuals and a variety of economic development and academic organizations that will catalyze energy, power and control technology and industry development,” said Alan S. Perlstein, executive director and CEO of M-WERC. “This organization was founded to support and build on our region’s energy, power and control industry cluster, and the center will focus on supporting and growing companies to fill industry gaps.”

Construction on the $9.6 million center is expected to begin in September. A grand opening is targeted for September 2015. A second construction phase is expected to begin around October 2015 and be completed by mid-2016.

“Just as the Global Water Center has put Milwaukee and Wisconsin on the map when it comes to water technology, we believe the Energy Innovation Center has the same potential for the energy, power and control sector,” said Walker. “Southeastern Wisconsin already is home to some world-leading companies and research universities in the sector. This is an opportunity to harness that innovation all in one place.”

“The Energy Innovation Center—like the Global Water Center—is part of WEDC’s overall strategy of making key investments in the most competitive and highest priority industries in Wisconsin,” said Reed Hall, secretary and CEO of WEDC, the state’s lead economic development organization. “We will evaluate similar investments in areas such as food and beverage, aviation and aerospace and other powerful industry sectors as we continue to help companies grow and create more jobs in Wisconsin.”

“The close collaboration between industry and universities made possible by the Energy Innovation Center will help fuel Milwaukee’s growth as a global hub for the energy, power and control sector,” said Dr. Michael Lovell, president of Marquette University and chairman emeritus of the M-WERC. “The support announced today will pay dividends not only for our students, faculty and partners in business and industry, but also for the future economic vitality of our region.”

Added Brett Peters, dean of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s College of Engineering & Applied Science: “Having these new resources right here in Milwaukee, where UWM’s microgrid testbed is just getting under way, offers tremendous potential, especially for industries in Wisconsin, to get in on the ground floor of a profitable emerging market in distributed energy systems. We are excited about the work ahead.”

“WHEDA is delighted to have played an early role in collaboration with our partners at WEDC to make this critical project a reality,” added WHEDA Executive Director Wyman Winston. “The Energy Innovation Center has tremendous potential to help fulfill one of the major goals of our Transform Milwaukee initiative, to return employers and much-needed jobs to the once-prosperous 30th Street Industrial Corridor and improve neighborhoods in the area.”

M-WERC envisions the center as a resource for both entrepreneurs—independent individuals with ideas they want to transform into successful businesses­—and “intrapreneurs”—individuals employed by companies who have an idea that they want to turn into a profitable product or service offering, Perlstein added.

The energy, power and control industry is comprised of companies that create and provide technology, components, products, systems, solutions or services tied to serving major energy, power and control segments.  Some of the state’s leading companies in the industry include the Eaton Corp., Johnson Controls Inc., Rockwell Automation, We Energies and the American Transmission Co.—all strong supporters of the EIC.

“Similar to water, energy is an important sustainable global resource that powers industry and commerce,” said Mike Laszkiewicz, vice president, Rockwell Automation and chair of the U.S. Manufacturing Council that advises the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. “For example, manufacturing plants use more than one-third of U.S. electric power. By accelerating innovation in this rapidly growing global market through regional collaboration, this center will energize new and existing businesses.”

The EIC already has two tenants: Alliance Federated Energy and the Manufacturing Diversity Institute. Other tenants of the center are expected to include industry associations, university and private researchers, government energy programs, economic development offices, workforce education programs, funding organizations and business support services.

The center also will be home to M-WERC’s EPiC Incubator, which will use the resources of M-WERC and its partners to enable startups to incubate, demonstrate and commercialize clean energy technology. lt is anticipated that the EPiC Incubator will be supported by WEDC’s Seed Accelerator Program in a manner similar to The BREW Program at the Global Water Center.

In addition to supporting the evolution of the energy, power and control sector, the Energy Innovation Center will be an important addition to the joint public-private effort under way to redevelop Milwaukee’s 30th St. Industrial Corridor and neighborhood. That corridor is part of the area targeted by Gov. Walker’s Transform Milwaukee initiative.

“The City of Milwaukee with its state and federal partners is revitalizing the 30th Street Corridor into a modern economic hub with thriving businesses and residential areas,” said Mayor Barrett. “This is a long-range plan, similar to the one we successfully completed in the Menomonee Valley. As the ‘Smart Energy Hub,’, Milwaukee has the industry and academic strength to lead the nation in clean energy, power, and control technologies.  Establishing the Energy Innovation Center here is a significant catalyst for future growth of that industry and the redevelopment of the corridor.”