Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

RESEARCH PARK ATTRACTS COMPANIES, CONTROVERSY Series: The Technology Challenge Sidebar Story

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

RESEARCH PARK ATTRACTS COMPANIES, CONTROVERSY Series: The Technology Challenge Sidebar Story

Article excerpt

The University of Missouri owns and runs the most successful - and most controversial - technology project in the region.

Over the last few years, the university's 13-year-old Missouri Research Park at Weldon Spring has attracted 10 companies to a hilly, forested development along the Missouri River in south St. Charles County.

There, nestled in the serenity of nature, tenants at the 742-acre park make everything from animal feed supplements to air-bag parts to hospital oxygen systems.

They also enjoy scenic lakes, handsome tax breaks and, soon, a championship 18-hole golf course to rival any in the region.

Park tenants have invested more than $29 million in buildings and $40 million in equipment. When the newest tenants - Natoli Engineering Co. and Tetra Plastics Inc. - move into their buildings this summer, the park will employ 1,100 people earning more than $33 million a year.

Not bad for an area that for years was best known for its federal toxic-waste dump, said economic-development consultant Richard C. Ward of Development Strategies Inc. The university hired Development Strategies to conduct an economic study for the park.

"We have never had a place where the region could concentate its high-tech business development," Ward said.

Officials in nearby communities, from O'Fallon to Wentzville, hope that the park will spur more high-technology development along Highway 40-61.

They envision high-tech offices and factories to replace the farms, trailer parks, saloons and taxidermy shops that dot that stretch of highway now.

Missouri Research Park is "creating the market out there," observed Tom Shaw, a veteran real-estate developer and broker in Chesterfield.

But the park's success also has brought it critics. Most vocal have been St. Charles County Assessor Gene Zimmerman, who has questioned tax exemptions given to companies at the park; state Sen. Ted House, D-St. Charles, whose bill to end those exemptions failed in committee earlier this month; and developer Edward T. "Tee" Baur, who believes that the university has not lived up to its promise of a "research" park.

"They've really created an industrial park," said Baur, who has been complaining to state officials since 1991 that the tax-exempt university has been snatching potential tenants from his own private industrial parks in the area.

Baur argues that many Missouri Research Park tenants are not exclusively research facilities. Most really are just modern factories that use technology - the kind of companies that could locate in many private industrial parks, he said.

"Any company making a profit has applied technology to it," Baur said.

The university has stirred additional resentment in its eastern neighbor, Chesterfield. Landlords there watched the research park benefit at their expense after the Great Flood of 1993.

The last four companies to build at the Missouri Research Park have been flood refugees in search of higher ground. Central Rolled Thread Die Co., Pohlman Inc., Natoli Engineering and Tetra Plastics all had plants in the Chesterfield Valley that were flooded out in August 1993, when the Missouri River broke through the Monarch Levee. Although Pohlman has reopened its Chesterfield plant, it canceled plans to expand that facility and built a second plant in the research park instead. …

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