The Sault Ste. Marie SmartZone, one of 21 in the state run in cooperation with the Michigan Economic Development Corp., was created in 2013 when the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corp. arranged funding for a new building on the southwest side of the city.
Half of the total $3.5 million cost of construction came from a federal grant, the other half from a bond issue by the city. The EDC runs the SmartZone and shares the building with it.
Michigan’s SmartZone program was created by the state legislature in 2000 to create technology-business incubators across the state.
The Sault SmartZone offers temporary office and manufacturing spaces to tech startups and early-stage companies at below-market rates. The building also offers facilities to others in the community. Its conference room can be rented for workshops, meetings and seminars and is offered free of charge to area nonprofits.
The EDC also offers coworking space to freelancers, telecommuters and entrepreneurs in need of temporary drop-in office space where they can work and meet with clients without the need for a lease and with flexible payment options.
The SmartZone currently has seven tenants, with one office space available. Tenants pay in advance for six months at a time.
“The last thing we want to be is a bill collector,” said Jeff Holt, the Sault EDC’s executive director.
The tenants are:
- Cardinal Plumbing & Heating is a full service plumbing and heating firm just south of Sault Ste. Marie. Its SmartZone facility is working on prototypes for new and innovative plumbing parts it hopes to get patents on. It also hopes to open its own plumbing and heating school and eventually expand into the northern Lower Peninsula.
- DPenzTech Consulting, a new tenant, is a technology consulting firm that wants to provide computer networking expertise in a rural area that lacks such resources.
- Ideas2Production LLC is an offshoot of an Alpena firm and hopes to work with engineering students at Lake Superior State University to help local manufacturing and tech firms grow their capabilities and markets.
- Omni Metalcraft Corp. is a materials handling and custom metal fabrication manufacturer also with headquarters in Alpena. It also wants to leverage the capability of nearby engineering students at LSSU to help clients solve manufacturing and logistical needs.
- Norpro USA began as a security firm in Ontario and expanded to the U.S. and the SmartZone in 2018. Its services range from one-day security guards to investigations to K9 security and training.
- Osprey Technologies LLC is a carbon-composite prototyping firm focused on replacement parts for aging Boston Whalers and lighter, stronger powered paragliders. (See related story, Page 10.)
- Superior Forensic Engineering LLC is a company that moved from Howell to the Sault in March and investigates the causes of fire and explosions for all the U.S. auto manufacturers. (See related story, Page 9.)
The EDC manages two industrial parks and a tech-incubator facility that is separate from the SmartZone.
The Air Industrial Park is adjacent to the Sanderson Field airport and includes the tech incubator. It has 10 businesses of all kinds and about 250 employees.
To the south is the Sault Ste. Marie Industrial Park, which has a focus on manufacturing. It has five businesses and about 160 employees.
The total square footage in the parks currently being rented is about 40,000.