Innovation Center helps build local start up companies

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU)-- As part of Economic Development Week, key players in the community have been focusing in on what helps grow Eau Claire’s economy.

Wednesday they celebrated a local collaboration that's helped create and retain jobs in our area.

The Chippewa Valley Innovation Center started as a collaboration effort between Chippewa and Eau Claire counties and the City of Eau Claire 30 years ago.

The non-profit is located on Eau Claire's north side and helps local businesses get off the ground.

Wednesday economic leaders saw first-hand what the innovation center means for job creation in our area.

Julie McFadden’s business Eco Urban Timber is one of the businesses that currently resides in the innovation center.

Her woodworking business is an idea that started in her garage and quickly grew from there.

“I had grown as far as I could in my garage, and I needed bigger power tools and bigger equipment to work with the raw materials,” McFadden said.

McFadden found herself looking for more space, that search led her to the Chippewa Valley Innovation Center. It’s a warehouse on Eau Claire's Northside that serves as an incubator to grow small businesses.

“What this place does is for growing jobs it provides individuals that are starting these companies assets that they don't have access to or they have limited funds to be able to obtain,” Luke Hanson, the executive director of the Eau Claire Area Economic Development Corporation said.

Since opening its doors to entrepreneurs 30 years ago the Innovation Center has helped jumpstart at least 15 companies.

One of those companies was Advance Laser Machining.

“We had one employee in 1996 and now we are at 120 employees located at the east end of Chippewa Falls with about $20 million in sales,” John Walton the president of the Chippewa Valley Innovation Center said.

Advance Laser Machining isn't the only company that has found success bringing jobs and money to the community.

“We did a study of the businesses that have graduated from this incubator. We found there has been $28 million being spent from that business in buying real estate, equipment etc. There has been an annual salary of about $18 million,” Walton added.

Just about one year into her start up business, Julie McFadden hopes her company can grow to that level in another few years.

“Hopefully a year from now I hope I can actually hire employees and bring people in as we expand our markets,” she explained.

Economic Development Week events will continue Thursday with a meeting of the Chamber of Commerce Small Home Office Group Thursday night at Lazy Monk Brewing.

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