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Former Bayer Plant Ready for Tech Tenants

Monday, January 14, 2008

Provided by Crain's Cleveland Business
Written by Chuck Soder

There’s finally a reason for someone to take down the Bayer Diagnostics sign in front of the pharmaceutical company’s former plant in Oberlin.

Building owner Kevin Flanigan has started recruiting young technology companies and other businesses to help fill the half-empty plant at 132 Artino St. that Bayer vacated in early 2001.

Mr. Flanigan said he’ll remove the Bayer Diagnostics sign in the next few weeks and replace it with one highlighting the building’s current tenants: General Plug and Manufacturing Co., NanoTech Innovations LLC and Special Materials Research and Technology Inc.

Mr. Flanigan, who owns General Plug, said he’s working with the city of Oberlin, Team Lorain County and the Lorain County Growth Partnership to find more tenants, and he’s talking to two more technology companies he’d like to relocate to the plant. One is a medical equipment company, he said, declining to give any details about the other.

“What we’re trying to do is create jobs for Lorain County and Northeast Ohio,” he said.

Mr. Flanigan estimated that Grafton-based General Plug — which makes pipe plugs, reducer bushings and screw machine parts — uses roughly half the space in the 192,000-square-foot building, where it conducts manufacturing, shipping and processing work. The other two companies estimated they each take up about 2,000 square feet.

The remaining space, Mr. Flanigan said, is prime for technology companies. It already includes labs, offices and refrigerated space and is flexible enough that it can be divided for multiple companies or used by a few larger tenants.

Plugging others in

The Oberlin native bought the building in June 2006 partly because General Plug was outgrowing its headquarters and because he wanted space he could dedicate to growing technology companies, though he also would consider other types of businesses.

The space, he said, would be an extension of what he has done in the past at General Plug’s headquarters: The company for more than 20 years has helped launch various businesses by providing expertise and resources such as space, equipment and accounting services, Mr. Flanigan said. Some companies were related to General Plug’s line of business, while others, such as The Unicorn Restaurant and Pub in Grafton, had no connection.

“I think we get enjoyment out of seeing things grow and prosper,” he said.

And he expects nothing less out of the two technology companies already in the incubator.

Mr. Flanigan showed his faith in NanoTech Innovations about four months ago, when he and business associate Jim Tyree invested an undisclosed amount of money in the startup. The company is developing a more efficient way to grow carbon nanotubes, which are cylinders of carbon molecules that serve as building blocks for various nanotechnologies — products built or altered on the molecular level.

NanoTech Innovations general manager Dennis M. Flood said he and his father, Dennis J. Flood, also looked into buying the Bayer Diagnostics building and filling it with technology companies, but the price was too high.

“It’s nice that somebody has picked up the ball and is pursuing what we always thought was a good use for this building,” the younger Mr. Flood said.

That’s free, as in zero

Mr. Flanigan also is supporting Special Materials Research and Technology by providing it free space until at least June, while owner and CEO Maria Faur seeks financing to pay for third-party validation of a technology aimed at providing a quicker way to coat solar cells. Dr. Faur, who worked on the technology for years at NASA Glenn Research Center, eventually wants to produce solar cells in the building.

Noted Mr. Flanigan: “If we can get it off the ground, it could be a major employer.”

Dr. Faur said someone from an overseas country she declined to identify offered her free space and equipment if she moved there. But, she said, “I want to keep the company in Ohio,” and Mr. Flanigan made that possible.

The city of Oberlin is trying to support Mr. Flanigan as well. It was the city, for instance, that suggested Dr. Faur consider the former Bayer Diagnostics building, said Tita Reed, economic and housing development officer for the city.

The city plans to attract more technology companies by visiting trade shows, improving its web site and placing more advertisements in publications related to sustainability, which is a sector on which the city plans to focus. It already is home to Synapse Biomedical Inc., a neurostimulation device maker financed by Cleveland venture development organization JumpStart Inc.

“We’re really jumping on this, trying to make it work,” Ms. Reed said.