More Than a Retread: A Tire Plant Turned Talent Hub

A former tire plant is repurposed into a hub for innovation and commerce.

By
Kevin Litwin
On Tuesday, November 10, 2020 - 11:06
wcw

When tiremaker Uniroyal shut down operations in Eau Claire, it left behind a sprawling 1.9 million-square-foot manufacturing complex that was a monument to an era of the past.

Today, that complex has been reborn as Banbury Place, where a new future is being written by 155 different entrepreneurs, innovative companies, artisans, custom manufacturers and retailers that occupy its 20 multiuse buildings and employ more than 500 people.

The development, which also includes a loft apartment residential component that is fully leased, is the vision of Jack Kaiser, president of Banbury Place, and his stepfather, Bill Cigan, who acquired the property after Uniroyal closed in 1992.

“Our purchase included all the machinery and tire equipment,” Kaiser says. “We eventually sold much of that equipment to a tiremaker in China so we could raise capital to redevelop the site. Today, Banbury Place is a very nice complex. A potpourri of companies is enjoying success.”

Businesses range from daycare centers and self-storage facilities to innovative companies, such as manufacturer American Phoenix, which custom blends rubber for the tire industry in 690,000 square feet of the complex. Its operations are spread over five floors, and it employs 200 people.

Kaiser says the commercial sections of the complex are 93 to 95% occupied.

One of the sites within the complex is Building 13, which houses entrepreneurs and startups. Its success stories include Steel Toe Shoes, a mail-order shoe company that began at Banbury Place in a 1,000-square-foot manufacturing space and has since expanded to a 27,000-square-foot site.

Another startup in Building 13, Goldstar Tech, buys returned items from electronics retailers and then repurposes and resells them. Goldstar Tech began in Building 13 in a 1,000-square-foot space and now is in another part of the complex, where its footprint has grown to 60,000 square feet.

A Banbury is a large piece of mixing equipment used in tiremaking, and it is an appropriate moniker for the development, Kaiser says. “The name reflects the past history of tire manufacturing in Eau Claire along with the current mixed use of businesses here,” he says.

Good Thinking

Banbury Place is by no means the only hot spot for ingenuity in the region.

Ivy, a coworking space for creatives, is located in downtown Eau Claire. The original home of Jamf Software, Ivy offers all manner of creative collaborations space, including conference rooms, full-service photography and video studios and a podcasting studio.

Ivy tenants include Clearwater Labs, a 100% University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire student-run company offering software technology solutions to businesses. The students at Clearwater Labs are mostly majoring in computer science.

The Clearwater Labs program gives students real-world experience and allows them to connect with company executives and offer them opportunities to land a high-quality job after graduation. The group has already helped companies tackle parking issues and reduce energy waste.

Housed in the same downtown building as Ivy, CoLab is a coworking and collaboration space geared specifically to tech entrepreneurs.

It is being developed by an affiliate of the Pablo Group, which includes a number of principles with roots in Jamf, one of the region’s tech startup successes.

CoLab membership provides access to dedicated desks and workstations as well as numerous couches, chairs and other less-formal spots to work as well as a kitchenette and rooms that can be reserved for private meetings.

“Innovation is always encouraged in Eau Claire,” Kaiser says. “It plays a big part in life here.”

If you'd like to learn more about West Central Wisconsin, check out the latest edition of West Central Wisconsin Economic Development

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kevin Litwin is the author of Crazy Lucky Dead and a freelance feature writer with a career spanning more than 20 years.