In the world according to Barry Batcheller, as you get a little longer in the tooth, the desire to create something broad and enduring becomes more important.
This maxim is delivered by a man still pretty young to be using such phrases, who lives to create, has set in motion three successful businesses, and knows opportunity when he sees it.
In his current role, president of Phoenix International, he is joining a partnership with North Dakota State University and its energetic president, Joseph A. Chapman. The two men are similar in fearing no obstacles, and routinely put their money where their mouths are, high stakes being the fodder for great rewards.
Their collaboration is resulting in the first phases of the NDSU Research and Technology Park, a venture in which the university and private industry can combine talents to develop new technologies. Phoenix is the cornerstone tenant. Both men see this as the proverbial win-win for the universitys faculty and students, the state and the region.
Its not a mystery to me why you have Silicon Valley. Its not a mystery to me why youve had the tremendous economic boom in the Boston area, Batcheller says. Its a cumulative thing, starting with top students who are attracted by the best faculty, working in an area conducive to the entrepreneurial sparks those two groups provide. We can help to bring a similar process here to Fargo.
Chapman is ready to step up on the universitys side. University research parks have proven to be real assets in economic development efforts, he says. There is a natural synergy when you bring together leading edge faculty researchers with private business research efforts. The opportunity to work side-by-side with potential employers is a real advantage for our students, as well.
For Phoenix, an electronic hardware and software design and manufacturing company, this synergy provides what they need: raw material in the form of well-prepared professionals, a vibrant and growing community to attract and retain these pros, and a healthy tax base in North Dakota. We absorb, we need, we consume the product that is produced by NDSU, Batcheller says. Its one of our raw materials we use for building our business and therefore we have a vested interest.
Batcheller is serious about this collaboration. I think its important that we make it real, he says. Were putting the building there for a very specific reason and this is to weave the fabric more tightly together between industry and the university.
According to Philip Boudjouk, vice president for research, creative activities and technology transfer, a number of companies are negotiating for space in the park. Boudjouk describes the park as a whole new enterprise for NDSU to fulfill its mission for this century in economic development.
The parks second building will be for NDSU researchers and includes wet lab facilities and Net-wired, technology-related areas. Also planned is a 5,000 square foot business incubator, where emerging companies will lease space in the facility as faculty and students work with them to prepare new products or methods. In this information age, there is no more powerful resource for economic development than a university research team of faculty, staff and students, Chapman says.
Batcheller is a transplant to the Midwest, born in California, graduated from high school on Long Island. He came to North Dakota State to study engineering, having learned of the program via a high school counselor whod read in a NASA newsletter about an NDSU professor working on Skylab. He then met a farmers daughter from Ada (Minn.).
Hes made an impact on the area. Phoenix is the areas 11th largest private employer and Batchellers third new company. Started in 1987 as a small consulting firm located above a Chinese restaurant in downtown Fargo, Batcheller and his partners pursued and achieved aggressive growth. Phoenix is now a $100 million company with 850 people in Fargo and Springfield, Ill. John Deere bought the company in 1999.
When the Phoenix building opens on the NDSU Research and Technology Park grounds, located on 40 acres west of the Fargodome, 250 to 300 employees will move in to collaborate with faculty, students and staff of NDSU.
I got into engineering because I like to create things, Batcheller says. The progression has been creating first products, then a technology working group, followed by Phoenix, and now, the NDSU Research and Technology Park. It seems you just get a bigger and bigger chess board on which to play the game.