The success of Florida’s investment in the biotechnology industry that started 10 years ago this month will depend on a handful of bold projects across South Florida in the coming years.
A Business Journal feature story showed that the job growth from the $719.7 million invested in nine research organization hasn’t been so tremendous, in terms of new jobs. These projects in all three counties aim to deliver those jobs, as well as life-saving research.
“The investment in Scripps and other institutions throughout the state has been important,” BioFlorida President and CEO Nancy Bryan said. “It has developed our research infrastructure and has served as a catalyst for growth of the life sciences, and has the potential to drive further growth. Continued investment makes sense as it will help drive accelerated growth of the industry – a high-value industry—leading to growth of the state’s economy and ultimately improving health.”
The key ingredients are investment in research and innovation, cultivating talent and entrepreneurship, the availability of venture capital and a favorable business climate, she added.
Scripps Phase II
The 681-acre Briger site in Palm Beach Gardens, basically across the street from Scripps Florida, is designated for the expansion of the biotech hub.
Palm Beach County owns 70 acres there and has pledged them to Scripps. The county is seeking development approval for 1.6 million square feet on the Scripps parcel, plus 2.4 million square feet of biotech space, 450,000 square feet for a town center and 2,700 residential units on the rest of the property. Kolter Group recently made a deal to acquire the rest of the site.
Scripps signed an agreement with Tenet Healthcare Corp. to build an 80-bed research hospital on the Briger site, with that potentially doubling upon expansion. Plans for the hospital have been stalled by a legal challenge from two nearby hospitals.
Scripps Florida’s Director of Scientific Operations Dawn Johnson said the hospital would fulfill Scripps’ need to partner with clinical and translational research. It’s working on a proposal with Tenet on how to move forward because that’s an important element to have on campus, she added.
“There is no substitute to hallway interactions,” Johnson said. “The next step is clinical research of some variety.”
Research park in Jupiter
The Research Park at Florida Atlantic University is actively looking for land to build on near Scripps and Max Planck in Jupiter, President and CEO Andrew Duffell said.
“The Research Park has a unique role to capture economic activity that spins out from the three research institutes in northern Palm Beach County, and we aim to ensure that jobs and technologies that result from their work stay here and endure,” he said.
Already, 27 percent of the 349,503-square-foot research park, in Boca Raton and Deerfield Beach, is dedicated to life science companies. It has a 24,000-square-foot building wet lab space that’s currently available for lease.
Business Development Board of Palm Beach County President and CEO Kelly Smallridge said the Research Park at FAU would be the ideal partner for spinoff companies in Jupiter because it has the organizational support and university connections to help them.
Meanwhile, in the spring, FAU will ask the Florida Legislature for $14.65 million to build a 68,000-square-foot neuroscience facility in Jupiter.
NSU aims high
Nova Southeastern University will break ground in January on the $80 million Center for Collaborative Research. Half of the 220,000-square-foot center will be incubator space for biotech and life science companies. It will also have wet labs and a genomics center to serve NSU’s growing medical researchers.
HCA plans to build a 100-bed academic research hospital on NSU’s campus, as well. Ironically, HCA is among the hospital groups fighting the Tenet hospital proposal near Scripps.
NSU VP of Research and Technology Transfer Gary Margules said the university has hired 12 faculty researchers over the past two years, and has ramped up its patent applications. Hiring should increase greatly once the new building opens.
Biotech degree at BC
Broward College will introduce bachelor’s degrees in both biotechnology and medical laboratory sciences in fall 2014, said Roy Pocknee, its dean of academic affairs. The college currently offers a lower-level biotech course.
“We started looking at this three years ago, and the labor market prediction wasn’t great at that point,” Pocknee said. “Now biotech is growing in Broward County. The entry level isn’t high wage, and demand isn’t great. For the bachelor’s level, the demand on the clinical side was great in Florida and across the nation as a whole.”
Miami Health District hotel
The current University of Miami Life Science & Technology Park is the first of six buildings in the original site plan, and developer Wexford Miami wants to move on to Phase II.
Bill Hunter, director of leasing with Wexford Miami, said the next phase would be a hotel conference center to capture the traffic and demand for academic events in the health district. Medical and flex space could be part of that building, he added.
Future phases of research and development space depend on landing an anchor tenant or two – at least 125,000 square feet – to kickstart a new building, Hunter said. He’s been talking to prospects about such a project. Any future phase would require Wexford to expand its ground lease with UM.
“There is potential for another 1.8 million square feet of development,” Hunter said.
Exploring more biotech incentives
Max Planck Florida COO Matthias Haury said the state should invest more incentive dollars in research organization to keep the momentum going. He suggested that some of the $500 million budget surplus Gov. Rick Scott is looking to provide tax relief with be used for this purpose.
Enterprise Florida has $70.5 million appropriated from the state for job growth incentive awards and biotech is among the targeted industries, CEO Gray Swoope said. That’s down from prior years, and there is no more Innovation Incentive Fund, the mechanism used to award institutions such as Max Planck.
If another research organization approached Florida looking for funding, Swoope said he’s consider it, but he’d want to see how much skin they’d put in the game.
Smallridge said Florida should build on the foundation it created by attracting those research organizations with hundreds of millions of public dollars.
“Hopefully we will receive more for-profit entities that don’t require that level of inducement,” Smallridge said.