Nearly 2,000 jobs could come from area incubator
Center would establish focal point' for biotech development
Move over Montgomery County and look out Baltimore, Prince George's County has plans to boost its own bioscience industry.
The Prince George's County Planning Department of the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission has released its study on the viability of building a biotech incubator within the county, determining that such a facility could generate as many as 1,900 jobs and $4.4 million in annual tax revenues.
The Prince George's County Biotechnology Research and Development Center Study, two years in the making, was prepared by the Angle Technology Group of Charlottesville, Va. It recommends a multi-tenant flagship facility to offer wet lab space for young bioscience companies, accelerate business growth, workforce training programs for biotechs and research space for related university and federal lab programs to help users attract federal research funds. This would establish a focal point for the county's bioscience development, the study said.
The study recommends locating the incubator at M-Square in College Park, the upcoming Konterra Business Campus in Laurel or near the Prince George's Plaza Metro in Hyattsville. Job and revenue numbers depend on the location, with the Plaza Metro site presenting the greatest possible benefits.
Limited space for startup biotech and a perceived lack of focus on the industry has made it difficult to retain the companies graduating from the University of Maryland, College Park's incubator programs, the study showed. To date, the county has eight biotech companies, with 1,500 employees.
Since the release of the study in September, the county has worked to examine the options and come up with viable alternatives, said Kwasi G. Holman, executive director of the county's Economic Development Corp. He said that the study's goal of development within the next five years should be feasible and the county has already received a positive response from at least one of the locations studied.
"We continue to have leadership in the area of plant sciences through the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center," said Holman. "We expect this to propel us into more biosciences."
The study also calls for longer term plans for a technology park for biosciences, possibly located at a 250-acre site in Beltsville.
Larry Kessner of Celadon Laboratories, a Hyattsville developer of Web-based software for analyzing genomes, said establishing the county as a biotech hub will be an uphill battle. He said the county lacks the infrastructure incentives of Montgomery County, which built its biotech industry around the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration.
"It's hard to get a critical mass of businesses when you don't have it," Kessner said. "Prince George's County is just not as attractive a place to be."
"Prince George's County has fabulous infrastructure that's just as good as any location to propagate life science businesses, but in the past they have not taken advantage of it or made the decision to target it as their market," argues Henry Bernstein, senior vice president of commercial real estate firm Scheer Partners in Rockville. Scheer has worked on about 500 biotech projects.
Bernstein praised the university's incubator and its growing life science program, saying it would be natural for the county to expand on the incubator concept outside the university.
Alton Fryer, senior vice president and partner at Manekin, one of the developers working on M-Square, said the incubator is a project Manekin would be interested in but not as an investor.
Incubator projects are very capital intensive, Fryer said.
The study suggested Prince George's biotech industry could tie into local resources such as the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center and FDA's Center for Food Safety and Nutrition.
Some organizations have their own preferences on the incubator's potential location.
"The proximity to other institutions is the leading way to do tech transfers," said Brian Darmody, associate vice president of research and economic development for the university, referring to collaborations between the university and a county incubator.
While Darmody said the university would prefer a county incubator to locate near M-Square, he said the university partners with state incubators wherever they are. Darmody said a partnership with the incubator could include faculty shares and joint approaches for federal research money.
"If it's done right, it can be really good," Kessner said.