University officials discuss ways to collaborate with cooperative to support economic and technology opportunities in the region.
MAYFIELD, Kentucky — Collaboration may be just as important to the success of the WK&T Technology Park as fiber internet, environmental impact and entrepreneurship.
On March 21, the staff of WK&T Telecommunications Cooperative welcomed Murray State University representatives to its newest property acquisition, the former Mid-Continent University located in Mayfield. WK&T purchased the property earlier this year from Mid-Continent University, which ceased offering classes in 2014. The cooperative plans to develop a technology park that will serve as a business incubator, retail center and economic development engine for the region.
The purpose of the tour was to give WK&T and Murray State officials an opportunity to walk the campus and brainstorm ideas on ways to collaborate.
Murray State President Bob Davies was impressed with the campus and encouraged by the opportunities for the university and WK&T to work together for the benefit of the community. “Part of our mission is to support the economic development of the entire region, both in terms of actual business support and educational support,” Davies said during the tour.
With the growing demand for high-tech jobs in the region, along with the technology companies WK&T hopes to attract to the park, the need for a skilled technology workforce is greater than ever. “We know that information systems technologies are very much needed in our area, and this could be one of the catalysts that helps us support that,” Davies said.
Extending educational opportunities beyond its main campus is nothing new for Murray State. The university operates regional sites in Henderson, Hopkinsville, Fort Campbell, Madisonville and Paducah.
Trevor Bonnstetter, CEO of WK&T, said the meeting was productive. “This is another step forward in shaping the future of the technology park,” he said. “In meeting with Murray State University to brainstorm how we might collaborate on this project, we laid the foundation for a partnership that will benefit this entire region.”
The concept of partnerships has already been central to the project. To make the purchase possible, WK&T worked closely with government officials to secure tax increment financing from Graves County and from the state of Kentucky. When the purchase was finalized, WK&T worked out an agreement for Mid-Continent University staff to occupy a small portion of the campus so that it could continue to serve students who need transcripts or to arrange payment plans.
WK&T has also been in discussions with West Kentucky Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation and the Tennessee Valley Authority to develop a large solar farm on the campus. The solar farm could provide up to 7 megawatts of electricity to power the property.
Also involved in the project is NRTC, a national organization serving more than 1,500 rural utilities and affiliates in 48 states to develop solutions that bring the advantages of evolving technology to rural America. NRTC will consult with tenant technology companies on energy usage, particularly as it pertains to the solar farm.
“We have approached several technology companies, as well as retail and hospitality companies, with the idea of locating here,” said Bonnstetter. “A number of them are interested, and we will continue to explore possible tenants for the technology park.”
Beyond its location and environmental focus, Bonnstetter said the park’s connectivity will be a major attraction for the types of companies he hopes will locate there. “The technology park is now connected to our 100 percent fiber network, and we plan to increase the fiber presence and capacity here,” he said. “We will have direct connections to major metropolitan hubs, which will give high-tech tenants the ultra-fast speeds and low latency required for today’s most sophisticated technology operations.”
WK&T itself will be one of the park’s first tenants, with plans to move the cooperative’s central network operations and customer service functions to the campus in the coming months.