By Jim Mortwedt
September 17, 2007 — NanoRite, a $5 million center designed to house and advance business ventures in the ultrasmall, opened August 24, 2007 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Bill Ihlenfeldt, president of Chippewa Valley Technical College (CVTC) and leader of the effort to build the center, said it will “be a catalyst for substantial economic growth.”
Wisconsin Secretary of Commerce Mary Burke said NanoRite will serve the entire state. “It’s going to move Wisconsin forward.” She said Wisconsin has stemmed the loss of manufacturing jobs and has grown exports 50 percent faster than nation in general — and she attributes both trends to Wisconsin’s emphasis on education. The Center will serve as an incubator and abuts the CVTC manufacturing campus on Alpine Road.
Jack Uldrich, whose consulting firm NanoVeritas months ago advised Ihlenfeldt and the CVTC board not to undertake a center that would be purely nano-oriented, said that a few years ago he spoke to a large audience of college presidents and several approached him afterwards to have him speak at their campuses on the economic future of nanotechnology.
But of that large group, Uldrich said only Ihlenfeldt had put a plan into action and built a nano facility. Only when a vision is turned into action do you change the world, the consultant said.
Partnerships, a hallmark of Dr. Ihlenfeldt’s 13 years as CVTC president, are the stuff of progress. Jeff Halloin, a principal in the Gateway Technology Park that donated land to CVTC for the facility, said the “Chippewa Valley does partnerships very well.”
Although western Wisconsin doesn’t have a research university, cooperation with intellectual talent like Dr. Forest Schultz of University of Wisconsin-Stout, and Dr. Doug Dunham of the UW-Eau Claire, and Hans Mikelson and Dr. John Wagner of CVTC will achieve the same or more, Ihlenfeldt said. Wagner only recently left the top technical post at Cray Computer to join the CVTC Nanoscience Technology faculty.
NanoRite’s first tenant is OEM Micro, a unit of OEM Fabricators of Woodville. OEM, a rapidly growing machine shop, has embarked on the new venture to address opportunities arising from the concentration of Twin Cities manufacturers of medical devices. Other tenants are now sought and Ihlenfeldt said two prospects might convert soon.
Micromachining, a technology that employs Swiss Screw machinery with its ultrafine cutting and fast spindle speeds, is one of the three major technology groups in NanoRite. Microfabrication, including photoetching, is another. Nanotechnology is the third.
The Eau Claire County Board and the Eau Claire City Council and numerous other organizations public and private helped fund the Center.
Jim Mortwedt is communications manager at Chippewa Valley Technical College.