Up until 2019, the future of Fremont’s Tech Park was unclear.
The 80-acre project, located along Yager Road near 32nd Street, was purchased in 2011 by the city in May 2011 after receiving a $982,892 grant from the Nebraska Department of Economic Development with the original goal of selling land to companies for data centers or other technology-related businesses.
With the purchase of the land came an important stipulation: The city must create at least 31 jobs through businesses in Tech Park by 2020 or be forced to return the grant money used to purchased the land.
For years, the lot remains mostly untouched by companies, technology-related or otherwise.
“I had doubts we were going to make it at all,” Lottie Mitchell, grant coordinator and executive assistant for the City of Fremont said.
Then, with just a year remaining before the city would be forced to return nearly $1 million in grant funds, it chose to drastically restructure the way it marketed the largely vacant lot to potential suitors.
Mitchell said the city realized that it would never be able to reach the minimum 31 job requirement by 2020 by attempting to sell Tech Park as one single parcel of land.
Instead, she said the city chose to different strategy.
“We decided that we had to remarket and that happened in 2019,” she said. “We said: ‘Okay, we’re never going to sell this as one parcel, we need to subdivide and show the concept of what this could be,’ and that’s really when we started realizing that this makes much more sense and that this was going to work.”
Since then, the city has either sold or is currently in the process of selling five lots to businesses looking to find a new home in Tech Park: Simply Strong, Summit Medical, Signal 88, McGinn Holdings, LLC. and Pearl Academy.
With those five businesses, Mitchell said the city now expects Tech Park will dramatically surpass the 31-job requirement the city is now required to meet by April 2022.
“Summit Medical is on a trajectory to create like 70 new jobs,” Mitchell said. “The number of jobs committed are going to far exceed what our minimum number is. We’re going to just dramatically surpass that 31-job requirement.”
That is good news for businesses committed to Tech Park as well. Included in the purchase agreement for each lot is a rebate for each acre should the city meet the employment goal.
Currently, the price of an acre in Tech Park sells for $32,500, according to Mitchell. If the grand requirements are met, that price drops to just over $20,000 per acre.
For some companies, like McGinn Holdings, LLC., that could bring a substantial rebate to their investment in Tech Park. The company initially purchased a 4.5-acre lot before coming forward to city council in February to purchase an additional two-acre lot for “further business growth,” according to a staff report.
The fiscal impact of the purchase is listed at $71,934 before the rebate. However, if the city meets its employment goal, McGinn will receive a $27,029 rebate, bringing the cost of the purchase down to $44,905.
“Being able to offer a rebate if we met our grant requirements was huge, because now the price of an acre is very affordable,” Mitchell said.
For Simply Strong, a training studio run by Molly Bird, the decision to become Tech Park’s first business was an easy one.
Bird had already been looking for a place to expand her business, which began in 2011. Over the last three to four years, Bird said she’s allowed Simply Strong to grow more and more, which ultimately led to the decision to expand into a new building.
“We always knew that we would need a new building, so we’ve had our eyes out for years and nothing existing ever really met our needs,” she said. “So, we just keep looking and changed our approach to building.”
As Bird and her husband looked for land to build their new location, they came across Tech Park.
“We had looked at it a few times,” she said. “It was in our minds and we would drive by and think about how there were all these different lots out here.”
Bird said Tech Park’s location was ideal for her expanding business given its proximity to 23rd Street and Bell Street.
“To us, that’s the perfect location and, for me and T.J. personally, we love nature, so for us to be the only ones out here and to see a fox running across the field and geese flying overhead is perfect for us. It’s just the perfect place.”
Bird will receive around a $15,000 rebate if the city meets its employment requirement for Tech Park. She said the rebate will be an added bonus to the decision to move to Tech Park, but she never based her decision to relocate solely on it.
“We just needed a great place to build our business and that’s what we have,” she said. “To be honest, I knew that this was going to be an amazing area, so it didn’t scare me one bit to be the first one to come out here and build.”
Bird said her decision to expand her business in the middle of a pandemic was met with plenty of scrutiny initially. That didn’t deter her from moving forward.
“People were looking at us like we were crazy — and even saying that sometimes — but it didn’t even affect me,” she said. “I knew that if we built this building, it would be successful because I know that what we have to offer is incredible.”
Once Simply Strong laid down the groundwork for what a future for businesses in Tech Park could look like, Bird said she knew other companies would be attracted to the area.
“I knew that once we got in and got going, it would only be more attractive to other businesses and other people,” she said. “It makes you nervous to make big moves. It’s kind of scary to make a big move, but once one person does it, it’s easy to say: ‘Oh, look what happened for them. It’s super successful. This is all going to work out.’”
In addition to the prospect of new businesses filling the 80-acre lot in the coming years, the possibility remains for Tech Park to house the now-stalled Joint Law Enforcement Center.
Tech Park is broken into two outlots: Outlot A and Outlot B. Outlot A is 12-acre lot co-owned by the city and Dodge County is meant to house the proposed law enforcement center, which failed a bond issue vote during the general election in November.
Outlot B contains the remaining parcels of land meant to be purchased and developed by outside businesses.
Despite the failed vote, Mitchell said the city isn’t giving up on the prospect of the JLEC being housed in Tech Park.
“Right now, it’s still planned for the JLEC,” she said. “If it’s deemed that they’re not going to move out to Tech Park, it’s possible that we would sell that lot and break that down into smaller lots, but right now it’s still committed for the JLEC.”
After years of silence and uncertainty about the future development of Tech Park, the city is starting to see a return on its investment.
“We get calls weekly about purchasing a lot at the Tech Park,” Mitchell said.
City Administrator Brian Newton said the city had previously gone through two marketing firms in an attempt to spark interest in the once-stagnant lot. Now, he said the city is doing a better job of marketing Tech Park internally than ever before.
“We’ve done better not marketing and just doing it ourselves,” he said. “It’s a great feeling to be able to say we did it and we made this thing work.”
With around 60 acres still left to be purchased, Mitchell said there is potential for hundreds of jobs to be created in Tech Park.
“It just depends on the type of business that goes in,” she said. “A business like Summit Medical, which is essentially a medical recruiting company but it’s set up like a call center. They’re going to have 75 to 100 employees at that location. So, if we get more like that, well then it’s hundreds of jobs. There’s room for hundreds of jobs there.”