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Fab Lab ICC Expansion Has Begun

Jim Correll, director Fab Lab ICC at Independence Community College, Independence Kansas 

Construction is now underway on the Fab Lab ICC expansion building. Recently on May 1, the concrete footings were poured to be followed soon by the floor in preparation of delivery of the pre-fab building components (some assembly required) later in May. 

We use the term expansion building to indicate it's not a building we'll move into, but rather expand into. So, in addition to the nearly 8,000 square feet we occupy now, we'll be adding an additional 6,400 square feet. The new building will house a paint booth, welding stations, a business incubator and a new studio into which we will move our wide-format printing, still image and video studio and our electronics work stations. The project went out for bid during the first part of February, 2018 with completion in early fall, 2018. 

At $700,000 the project is not huge as far as building projects go, but it is the first new building on the ICC campus in about 20 years. It's quite remarkable that the concept and related funding for this project has come about in just two short years. Interesting to note is the fact that the project did not come about with a primary purpose of serving academic programs. This project is a part of our development of a new tool in rural economic development; assisting entrepreneurs and small business owners in starting and building their businesses to collectively make substantial contributions to area employment and, indeed, rural area economies.  

Economic Development is Changing 

There's a continuing nationwide debate about the effectiveness of the traditional model of economic development that involves attempting to lure big companies to come and build large facilities that will employee many people. In the northeast, they call this "chasing smoke stacks," a reference to the businesses that used to characterize the industry base in the northeast. The challenge is in the large concessions and abatements necessary to get the "smoke stack." Many times, when the benefits of the concessions and abatements are exhausted, the smoke stack leaves after engaging in a new auction to see who will pay the most to attract it to a new area. 

Entrepreneurship Can Help Large Numbers Even in Tiny Markets 

Entrepreneurship and small business ownership has the greatest potential to help the largest number of people, world-wide, even in areas too tiny to effectively bid on the smoke stacks. One-hundred small business owners are the equivalent of a company coming to an area, bringing 100 jobs; only the small businesses generally don't receive abatements and financial concessions. Some of the 100 businesses will grow to need employees and thus we have a tool to grow from within. We offer access to Fab Lab ICC and our services through memberships available to anyone in our "community" without geographic or other limitations and this includes many entrepreneurs and small business owners working to start and grow their businesses. 

We Need More Start-Ups 

New business start-ups across America are down and we need to do something to inspire a new generation of problem-solving entrepreneurs to start and grow businesses. We need to change the mindset from one that thinks new businesses require massive planning and funding to a mindset realizing that 98% of new businesses have always started small—with $10,000 or less in start-up funding—validating their markets early and then growing, some to become large employers. 

Expansion Building Funding 

This is the reason the United States Economic Development Administration is funding 50% of the Fab Lab ICC building expansion. They see the need to have more business start-ups and they believe the Fab Lab can be a catalyst toward that end. The Independence Community College board of trustees will provide $250,000 toward the matching funds required for the other 50% of project cost. The remaining $100,000 has come from individuals and a couple of non-tax based organizations. 

New Model for Work Force Training 

In addition to our efforts to grow small businesses, we will provide a new brand of work force training, called Fab Force, that will emphasize entrepreneurial thinking, a variety of technical knowledge skills and experiential project-based learning. Eventually this kind of learning will be a big attraction to traditional students looking for an exceptional and affordable experience during their first two years after high school. 

We believe the combination of the Fab Lab maker space and entrepreneurial mindset can be an economic driver in rural communities all over the United States and world, even those too small to afford the cost of attracting large employers. 

Jim Correll is the director of Fab Lab ICC at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship on the campus of Independence Community College. He can be reached at (620) 252-5349, by email at or Twitter @jimcorrellks. 

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