The latest set of directions on Garmin’s GPS units leads to Kansas University’s West Campus.
The leader of the Bioscience and Technology Business Center on KU’s West Campus confirmed Wednesday that Olathe-based Garmin Ltd. has signed a deal to open a software office in the incubator. The office is expected to open in January and will include 12 to 15 software employees.
“We’re thrilled to have them as a tenant here,” said Matt McClorey, director of the incubator and president of the Lawrence Regional Technology Center. “We’re excited that we have a facility they like.”
Garmin, which makes GPS technology devices, marks the fourth company to sign a lease in the center since it opened in August. McClorey said the center recently signed two other tenants: BrightEHR, an electronics health records company that is partially owned by Lawrence-based Bert Nash Mental Health Center; and Sunlite Science and Technology, a Lawrence company that makes specialty LED flashlights and is poised to enter the LED industrial lighting market.
The center previously confirmed Dublin-Ireland based Propylon Inc. opened a 14-employee office in the center to support its business of creating computer software systems for state legislatures.
In total, the new 21,000-square-foot incubator building — located across the street from KU’s new pharmacy school and the Multi Disciplinary Research Building — is 40 percent leased.
“We’re very pleased with how we’ve kicked things off here,” McClorey said. “We’re a bit ahead of schedule, actually.”
Once Garmin opens its offices, the center is expected to have about 30 employees, almost entirely in the high-tech sector.
“We’re working on compiling the data now, but I think compared to the average wage in Douglas County, these jobs are going to exceed the average by a significant amount,” McClorey said.
The early success has some local leaders feeling more confident in the decision to invest in the $7.5 million incubator facility. The city and county each have agreed to invest $75,000 per year for 10 years, with the university, the KU Endowment, the Lawrence-Douglas County Bioscience Authority and the Kansas Bioscience Authority all providing funding as well.
“I think we’re seeing some early signs that the decision to build this facility was the right one,” said city Commissioner Mike Dever, who also serves on the local Bioscience authority.
But the early successes haven’t necessarily been of the variety first expected. The center — which has multiple wet labs — was proposed with expectations that bioscience companies would be the main tenants. But thus far, all four tenants have been more technology-oriented.
McClorey, though, said he’s negotiating deals with two potential bioscience companies, including a true start-up that would utilize research done at KU.
In the meantime, the center is filling pent-up demand from technology companies that want to be close to the engineering and computer software talent available at KU.
Although exact details of the types of jobs Garmin will bring to the center weren’t available — an attempt to reach a Garmin spokesman wasn’t immediately successful — McClorey said the company clearly was looking to establish more relationships with the university.
“Being able to tell companies that we can put you right in the heart of KU’s prime research area, and that we can help you develop relationships has been very important,” McClorey said. “Having that presence on the university campus is a big deal to a lot of companies.”