Study: Incubator could bring 1,900 jobs to Prince George's
Biotech center could bring revenue, establish development focal point'
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, accelerated 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 an identifiable focal point for the county's bioscience development, the study said.
Maryland already has incubators, though not all related to biotech, in Annapolis, Baltimore, Columbia, Hyattsville, Largo, Frostburg, Hagerstown and Waldorf, among other locations.
Incubators have already launched successful companies from incubators such as the Shady Grove Innovation Center in Rockville, TowsonGlobal at Towson University, bwtech@UMBC Incubator and Accelerator at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in Catonsville, the Emerging Technology Center in Baltimore, Frederick Innovation Technology Center and Technology Advancement Program at the University of Maryland College Park.
The Prince George's study recommends locating its biotech 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, encompassing about 1,500 employees.
Since the release of the study in September, the county has worked diligently 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.
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.
James C. Greenwood, CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington, D.C., agreed with Fryer but emphasized that early seed funding is what emerging biotechs need most. Greenwood said the biotech also teach startups about good business practices such as setting up business plans since most scientists are not used to managing companies.
"It's smart for the government to step in and nurture these companies through incubators," he said. He added that the most successful states in the industry are those providing seed money, incubator space, favorable tax policy and incentives for high-class researchers.
Greenwood said incubators are not all about making every client into a success story but about building intellectual capital for the area and business infrastructure to better support those companies that are likely to make it.
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.
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. He added that the university's incubator can't offer a lot of wet lab space since those labs have many environmental regulations. 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. "You can't just stick a few people in a building, give them tax credits and call it a tech incubator. You have to have a critical mass of companies."
Patrick Kelly, vice president of state government relations and alliance development at BIO said establishing another biotech area between Baltimore and Montgomery County is a natural progression with the transportation resources nearby, as well as the potential university student workforce.
"It augments what everyone else [in the state] is doing," Kelly said, emphasizing that much of the real potential for biotech could open up in the next five years. "The regions that are going to do well are the ones investing into infrastructure now."