Technology Park viewed as key to SEMO's life sciences project

Sunday, February 19, 2006

The future site of Southeast Missouri State University's research and technology park is 410 acres of farmland near what will soon be the East Main Street interchange exit of Interstate 55 north of Cape Girardeau. The park will be located on the east side of the interstate off County Road 618.

The Technology Park represents Southeast's effort to redefine itself as a world leader in life sciences. To do so, the university hired Dennis Roedemeier in 2002 to oversee the park's development and help lure life-science businesses to the area.

The most important developments of the past year for the park have been progress on the I-55 exit and the commitment by a St. Louis-based pharmaceutical firm to make the park its home.

Interchange planning

In August, the federal highway bill was approved by congress with $10.8 million set aside for the East Main interchange project. This total was more than the initial cost estimate of the project and the extra money will be used to construct arterial roads.

Cape Girardeau voters have also approved $3.2 million to extend and resurface County Road 618 and rename it LaSalle Avenue.

Cape Girardeau Mayor Jay Knudtson said this may not be enough.

"I don't think anybody 18 months ago could fathom that we would have occurring what we have occurring to our north," he said, referring to a possible boom of housing and retail developments in the area. "It's phenomenal as far as what its implications to our city could be."

Knudtson thinks these developments make it imperative to appropriate funds for a proposed $3.9 million, 2.71-mile arterial access road connecting the interchange with Center Junction. The proposed road will be named Technical Park Drive.

Construction on the interchange will likely start in the fall of this year.

Life-science industry

One of the first tenants of Technology Park will likely be St. Louis-based Chlorogen Inc., which has committed to establishing a center in Cape Girardeau though it is still looking for funding from a biopharmaceutical firm. The company specializes in experimentation with genetically modified strains of tobacco used to grow essential proteins. These proteins are in turn used in pharmaceuticals that treat ovarian and pancreatic cancers.

Chlorogen chief executive David Duncan said Southeast has already agreed to build a facility in the park to lease to the pharmaceutical company. Duncan said that aside from the structural costs, the new facility will require $3 million to $4 million for equipment and personnel to get started.

Duncan said he hopes to bring Chlorogen to Cape Girardeau within the next year to year and a half.

Roedemeier's role

One man instrumental in bringing Chlorogen and other bio-science firms to the area is Dennis Roedemeier. He became chief executive officer of the Southeast Missouri University Research Foundation and executive director of the Innovation Center in 2003. Roedemeier is responsible for developing initiatives to assist Southeast faculty and businesses in applied research projects in plant and life sciences, value-added agriculture and manufacturing technology.

Roedemeier also oversees the business incubator program at Southeast, scheduled to open Sept. 1, and is charged with recruiting and assisting companies in the life science fields.

He envisions the park as not only a research facility, but also a community. "It's going to have a village feel," he said. "This will be a very low-density project, if people are used to 30 percent density, this may be more like 20 percent."

Roedemeier said he would like to see retirees -- perhaps alumni of Southeast -- move back to the area and do things like take university courses, go to football games and attend plays.

"It will look like an old-time village," he said. "You won't have to leave the area to get groceries or pharmaceutical products. That's why we're working with MoDOT to make sure that the underpass of the interchange is good for people on foot. We want it to be just as safe and accessible for the mom with the baby carriage as it is for the guy in a golf-cart smoking a cigar."

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