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p01 uparkThe business park is just off Illinois Route 157 in Edwardsville.By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
    After years of watching little interest being shown in University Park, SIUE officials are actively moving on a plan to lure new tenants.
    This summer, University Park signed a contract with Balke Brown Transwestern to market the technology and business park property, Vice Chancellor Rich Walker said.
    The park will be 25 years old next year.
    “We felt it was time — past time, really — to get new projects started. Our current model isn’t working,” Walker said. “We interviewed a few firms and Balke Brown Transwestern seemed to have the best national connections for us. Their experience with a variety of mixed-use projects offers some real potential.”
    Balke Brown has been retained on a four-year contract to do some consulting, marketing, brokerage and “potentially some of their own development,” Walker said.
    Balke Brown will be paid a $5,500-a-month retainer and a 6 percent commission for anything that comes to a full contract, he said.
    The university does not spend a dime. University Park, a privately run entity that has an agreement with SIUE to manage the park, has hired the firm. University Park has assets available from past developments, Walker said.
    There is language in the contract that gives the opportunity for either party to withdraw from the agreement if they are not happy with progress, he said.
    Walker said it is hard to gauge why there has been such lack of interest for land that is so visible. The 330-acre park lies between Illinois Route 157 and various legs of University Drive:
    Route 157 lies to the east
    East University Drive (the extension of Governors’ Parkway) lies to the north
    The south is bordered by woodlands
    The west is bordered by University Drive. Much of the park on its western fringe lies just east of the rear of the student fan lots, the main parking for students.
    The park has two main roads, University Park Drive runs east west and Research Drive runs north and south.
    A map identifies 138 acres that could be developed in parcels that spread out over a few miles of green space.

Science, ag, development see chemistry in partnership

    A first-time grant is creating an unusual intersection of education, agriculture and science, and in the center of it, supporters hope, will be economic development.
    The three-year, $680,000 grant was awarded by the United States Department of Agriculture to Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, in partnership with the University of Illinois Extension and Monroe County Economic Development Corporation. The grant seeks to leverage the assets of each of the parties to do two basic things: help businesses get a foothold in a variety of industries; and boost agricultural education.
    Dr. Bob Dixon, a PhD in the SIUE Department of Chemistry, is the principal investigator of the grant, and is working with the campus’ NCERC, the national corn-to-ethanol research plant at the university.
    Courtney Breckenridge, assistant director at NCERC, called the effort a close partnership “in terms of connecting the academic side of research with the industrial side of research that NCERC is known for.”
    “We plan to provide small businesses, startups and farmers the science they need to grow their businesses or their farms,” Dixon said. His science students will be helping with tailored research.
    The project plans to enlist faculty and staff from six academic departments and five centers at SIUE. Some of those are environmental sciences, sociology, geography, mass communications, nutrition, the Office of Educational Outreach, the Small Business Development Center and the Environmental Resources Training Center.

First business comes forward

    One Metro East business has already reached out to the university. Brad Eastman, the owner of Beastman Tea LLC, is working to launch a project in earnest in January, Breckenridge said.
    “He came in and gave a presentation about his story. He’s going to interact with students from different disciplines. We’ve got some graduate students that are part of these teams. He’s really benefitting from some higher-level insight and ideas, and these students in turn will be getting practice in interacting professionally.”
    Eastman is a cancer survivor who said he developed the tea as a means of treating his immune system.
    “I’m an endurance athlete, marathoner, and ironman triathlete,” he says on his website. “I had the shock of my life in March 2013 when I was diagnosed with a malignant, baseball-sized brain tumor just after finishing in the top 1% of the Walt Disney World Marathon.
    “During my cancer treatment, I needed to support my immune system. I looked for a product that was healthy, naturally hydrating, caffeine-free and delicious. I found none. I decided to develop the perfect beverage myself. In 2015, I was cancer free. And Beastman Tea was born.”
    Eastman could not be reached for comment on what he might be able to gain from SIUE’s assistance, but he says on his website that he is working on distribution plans for his product, which comes in multiple flavors. At press time, Eastman was also a finalist in the 2018 round of the Metro East Startup Challenge, with actual winners expecting to be announced early in November.
    Dixon said he hopes to use the grant helping as many businesses as possible, with students providing most of the labor.
    “The projects are going to be relatively small in terms of cost. We have students that will be working on the projects as part of their academic experience. So, the costs are going to be for the chemicals and the laboratory equipment we need to do the tests,” he said.  
    Dixon is hoping for a broad range of clients from Metro East, with Monroe County a particular focus of the grant. Science will be a big driver of each project but each will also have a strong outreach component. Student results will be shared through social media and press releases.
    The grant is coming via a program of the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture Non-Land Grant College of Agriculture. The project is officially called, “Fueling Growth: An Integrated, Capacity-Building Grant for Experiential Learning, Extension and Economic (E3) Development in Rural America.”
    A second, smaller focus of the grant is on agricultural education, which took a significant hit during state funding cuts of the last few years, affected some needs of the workforce. University of Illinois Extension will play a role through its presence in schools.
    “There is a huge workforce demand in this area for agriculture and agriculture-related careers,” Breckinridge said. “We’re obviously not getting into the business of crop science or livestock, but there is a lot of agricultural research taking place around SIUE right now and we are trying to link that together more meaningfully,” she said.
    Dixon said a couple of things led to the grant application.
    “We’d been working with a couple of farmers trying to help them on projects. I saw the need and we were looking for new direction in some of our USDA grant applications. Courtney and I brainstormed and we thought this would be a good way to take the interest we were seeing and make it into a more formalized educational component.”
    The SIUE students will be integral to the program. They will listen to clients, come up with a plan of action, do the research, prepare the final report and present it to the client.
    “It a glimpse of what the real-world workforce looks like,” Dixon said.
    Breckenridge sees the potential of the program going beyond the three-year period of the grant.
    “Absolutely. I feel pretty strongly that this is something we can make self-sustaining. SIUE has really only scratched the surface of how it can be working with the community in different ways. This model has a lot of promise.”

Couple’s mobile escape room takes growing trend on the road

    Some businessmen don’t have a clue. Ray and Cami Perkins have a 32-foot trailer full of them.
    In an age when escape room businesses are seemingly opening in storefronts in every town around, the O’Fallon, Ill., couple are an enigma inside a riddle wrapped in a mystery. They take their business on the road.
    Roaming Riddle Mobile Escape Games is a rare escape room on wheels. It’s elaborately adorned, inside and out, bedecked at the moment in a submarine theme. Passengers climb aboard and have to work through a series of clues to win the game.
    It’s hard to miss the giant trailer, which for the last two months people have been seeing at festivals, churches, business functions and such. The vehicle is like a rolling, multicolored billboard, giving only the barest clue as to what’s in store inside.
    “We take you back to 1943 to World War II,” Ray Perkins says playfully. “A group comes on board and they are new sailors in the U.S. Navy. They’ve been assigned to this submarine, the USS Escape.”
    In the current game scenario, the sub is submerged 200 feet down, and enemy ships are afloat overhead. The sub is running out of power and rising to the service. Somewhere on the submarine is a backup battery needed to rescue the mission. Passengers have limited time to get their act together.
    Algorithms, puzzles, riddles — everything one needs to get from clue to clue to clue — are found inside the trailer. Visitors don’t necessarily have to be geniuses, but they do have to be observant and it’s best if they act as a team. A little luck doesn’t hurt.
    Escape rooms have been pleasant diversion from reality for about a decade in this area, but they’ve also served a  purpose for corporate officials wanting to engage their workers in meaningful team-building exercises.
    In Metro East, escape rooms have recently opened in Alton, Belleville, Collinsville and elsewhere — but each is a brick and mortar operation.
    The Perkins family was exposed to their future a few years ago when they visited an escape room in Nashville, Tenn., with all three of their children. They enjoyed that adventure and many similar ones since.
    A World War II era picture of a bomber pilot out on the town in Hollywood adorns one wall of the escape room. The man in the picture is Cami’s grandfather.


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Alton Gregory CourtneyCourtney Gregory    Simmons Hanly Conroy says Courtney Gregory, a shareholder in the firm’s Asbestos Department, has been named to Missouri Lawyer Weekly’s 2018 list of “Up & Coming” lawyers.
    “Courtney’s dedication to her clients is readily seen both inside and outside of the courtroom,” said Mike Angelides, managing shareholder at Simmons Hanly Conroy. “This dedication, coupled with her tenacity and proficiency in all areas of a case, make her both a formidable opponent and a respected colleague. She is a deserving recipient of Missouri Lawyer Weekly’s ‘Up & Coming’ recognition, and we are proud to have her on our side.”