Enterprise Square USA, once a hands-on learning environment about the free enterprise system, is back on the Oklahoma Christian University drawing boards and being prepared for an extensive renovation.

And that renovation may bring an opportunity for fledgling businesses to benefit from OC faculty and student involvement as well as the potential for a partnership with the City of Edmond and the Edmond Economic Development Authority.

John Wilguess, OC vice president for civic affairs, met with the EEDA board of trustees Tuesday morning for the first time to relate what the university plans for Enterprise Square.

He said the university is open to partnering with the EEDA, which has been given a mission by the City Council to explore starting a city-sponsored business incubator.

Already, the university had envisioned a 7,000-square-foot business incubator as just one aspect for the 56,000-square-foot building’s future. But that size may be reconfigured depending on how talks progress with the EEDA, which is looking for something more like 20,000 square feet.

The EEDA board’s initial discussion indicates that OC’s location right on the city limits line between Edmond and Oklahoma City will not hinder the council from agreeing to fund a partnership there.

Yowell mentioned the Guthrie-Edmond Regional Airport as an example of a partnership outside city limits.

Patrice Douglas, EEDA board chairwoman, said the biggest plus of an OC/city partnership might mean that Edmond doesn’t have to buy land or build a building to get a business incubator up and going.

One aspect for the EEDA board and the council to decide is what type of business incubator it might pursue in the future.

“When you start a business incubator you want to have a focus on it in some way,” Yowell said, noting she and Douglas will be learning more about incubators at an upcoming conference in Stillwater.

Sherri Stickley, another EEDA board member, said successful incubators “are more than just a real estate deal.”

She’s currently researching incubators as part of her work and noted that start-up companies need a variety of technical assistance. Having a partner in the university might benefit the city in multiple ways.

“What you find out is it’s usually got to be subsidized,” Stickley said.

Ed Gray, EEDA board member and Edmond Medical Center CEO, said a business incubator does not have to be only for high-tech companies, but could be one that focuses on labor development or other ideas.

A nursing shortage has been a concern to the hospital industry, but other professions also are looking for a trained labor pool, he said.

Stickley urged the board that any criteria developed must include an entrance policy and a “graduation” policy to determine when a business is successful enough to move out on its own.

Douglas said she expects the board to discuss the idea further at the February meeting.

Other aspects of the Enterprise Square renovation include turning the Hall of Giants into a large meeting and dining area capable of seating about 400 plus adding a multi-use theater next to it for a variety of student and community programs, Wilguess said.

“We see it becoming a small conference center,” he said.

A key focus that will remain in the renovated building will be one upon civics education and training for teachers.

“The university wants to be engaged in this as fully as we can,” Wilguess said.

OC has an unofficial partnership with the Freedoms Foundation of Valley Forge to help begin its civics education work for teachers.

Wilguess said the university is envisioning continuing education seminars throughout the summer months to help achieve Enterprise Square’s mission.

The newest housing opened by the university will be utilized for summer academies.

“We want to raise the profile of civics education,” he said.

No timeline has been set for the renovation project, but will be dependent upon fundraising efforts, Wilguess said.

Demolition plans are at the ready to begin the interior renovation once the funding is in place.

(Business Editor Lisa Shearer may be reached via e-mail at lshearer@edmondsun.com.)

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