University leaders and industry members including executives from Boeing and defense giant Raytheon broke ground Friday on Montana State University’s Applied Research Lab, the first of a handful of buildings that will eventually form its planned tech park.

The 20,000-square-foot building, set for completion next summer, will be part of the 42-acre MSU Innovation Campus project located in the former Advanced Technology Park off College Street. The building will contain roughly eight lab-type spaces that will be contracted for use by both the university and private companies to perform government research. Those contracts are also expected to fund the building’s construction.

The campus is owned and operated by the university’s nonprofit fundraising arm, the MSU Alumni Foundation.

“The Innovation Campus and Research Lab fit perfectly with the intent of land-grant universities,” said Loren Bough, local investor and member of Innovation Campus Partners, the private firm constructing the Research Lab that also includes Charter Realty and Development, Martel Construction and A&E Architects.

“We need more lab space, we need more research space, and this is access for our students to work with the Boeings and the Raytheons and the (S2 Corporations),” Bough said.

Once completed, the Research Lab will be accredited for security by the U.S. Department of Defense, making it the first facility of its kind in Montana. That accreditation is what will give student researchers a leg up, as well as attract private companies to Bozeman, said Innovation Campus Executive Director Justin Cook.

“This is a huge economic development opportunity for the state,” Cook said. And students who gain security clearance and experience working in a high-level lab setting will “walk in the door ready to work” after graduating, he added.

“I applaud the organization here for having the forward thinking to put in an institution like this,” said Raytheon vice president and MSU alumnus Wes Kremer. “For us at Raytheon, this is a good move from a partnership perspective.”

Boeing executive Tom Hunter, MSU President Waded Cruzado, Vice President for Research and Economic Development Renee Reijo Pera, Montana Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney and Kris Merkel, president of local photonics company S2 Corp., also took part in the day’s groundbreaking ceremony.

Private company contracts for the Research Lab have not yet been finalized, Cook said, though two of the spaces will likely be occupied by the university.

Following completion of the lab, organizers will begin work on the remaining dozen or so specialized buildings, research offices and manufacturing spaces making up the rest of the campus.

The tech park has seen its fair share of ups and downs since its inception in the 1980s. The former Innovation Campus executive director left Bozeman in 2015 after several years of inactivity on the site, and companies currently residing in the park last summer voiced concern they would be displaced due to the project. The area is also part of a city tax increment finance district that raised just $167 over four years.

“It’s been a long road,” Bough said.

Kendall can be reached at 406-582-2651 or lkendall@dailychronicle.com. He is on Twitter at @lewdak

Lewis Kendall covers business and the economy for the Chronicle.

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