Kellogg, BCU put city's growth on fast track

January 25, 2010
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BATTLE CREEK — The Kellogg Co. spent $54 million to expand its W.K. Kellogg Institute for Food and Nutrition Research facility, a 157,000-square-foot pilot plant and office space expansion that was dedicated in a late September ceremony.

Battle Creek economic development officials said Kellogg is doing its part to strengthen the economy with the investment, and noted its contribution to the revitalization of the city.

 For those same officials, Kellogg's involvement in the $85 million downtown transformation plan is essential to boosting the city's profile after an era where it was showing some decline. Previously, the majority of investment in Battle Creek was limited to Ft. Custer Industrial Park, said Karl Dehn, president and CEO of Battle Creek Unlimited, which has been foremost in spearheading and coordinating the area's resurgence.

"We want to make sure we're seeing growth and investment throughout the community, given the importance of a downtown on the rest of the community and a signature of a community's health," Dehn told a panel of journalists recently on a public television program that included the Grand Rapids Business Journal. "We felt like we had to drastically change the approach to downtown development."

Dehn said the city is now pursuing an innovation-growth strategy, which should continue to attract investment into the future through strategic economic development.

"You couldn't just go and beautify the downtown and expect that, naturally, private investment would follow, that people would want to work and bring their investments there," he said. "We really had to work and capitalize on our strengths."

Jim Hettinger, senior adviser and longtime leader of BCU, also said on the PBS broadcast that adding Kellogg's influence and money to the city's already solid reputation in food-science research will help West Michigan grow stronger, and may result in positive, profitable alliances between four cities that are known for entirely different but distinct types of research.

"Kalamazoo is known for pharmaceutical research and Grand Rapids for its medical-science research," Hettinger said. "In Holland, it's materials science. Those are all very different, but many people who come to work in those fields don't come alone. They bring spouses who need jobs and might work in another of these areas."

He praised Kellogg for broadening its epicenter for global product development, research and innovation from around 80,000 square feet to 400,000 square feet, which includes innovation labs, research facilities, a flexible experimental production area and an improved pilot plant.

As the home of Kellogg Co., food science is one of those obvious strengths, and one pillar of the transformation plan is creating a food-science industry cluster: the National Center for Food Protection.

The Kellogg Foundation also donated to BCU the former Cereal City USA museum, which evaluators recommended as the best option for the area Math and Science Center's new location. By relocating to downtown, Dehn said the school and the National Center for Food Protection will be able to work together more closely on programming and introducing children to the food-science industry.

Additionally, Kellogg plans to consolidate its downtown campus, which means 600 employees will be relocated to the BC Tower and the former Fifth Third Bank building. Kellogg originally had planned to construct a new building downtown, but after reassessing, it decided to renovate existing buildings.

"We are stepping up our efforts and really pursuing what we think is a niche opportunity for Battle Creek, but we still continue to pursue" other industries, including aviation and aerospace, homeland security and advanced manufacturing, Dehn said.

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