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John McCloud is editor of Industry Property Journal, from which this article is excerpted.

Columbus, OH—This Midwestern city is adding its name to a growing list of municipalities hopping on the biotech bandwagon. But the Ohio state capital faces competition from other newcomers like Pittsburgh and Greensboro, NC, as well as established centers like Baltimore, Boston, San Francisco and San Diego. A growing number of cities are racing to reap economic rewards from a burgeoning industry whose dividends are still largely speculative.

Columbus and three neighboring towns released a formal plan in late August for development of the 315 Research + Technology Corridor, which encompasses 10,000 acres along State Route 315 from downtown Columbus north to Clinton Township. The newly created Columbus-Franklin County Finance Authority, the Ohio Building Authority and various other local, state and federal agencies are establishing programs to coordinate public investment and attract private investment supportive of corridor goals.

High-tech and biotech companies in the corridor already boast more than 50,000 employees, but the plan projects the area will double that number within the next 20 years through recruitment and expansions of life sciences research and manufacturing. All four of central Ohio’s major hospital systems have signed on as sponsors of the new initiative. The Columbus City Council committed $2.5 million to infrastructure improvements and a Technology Growth Incentive plan to lure businesses to the corridor.

In North Carolina, backers of the Greensboro Center for Innovative Development (GCID) unveiled plans to transform 75 acres near Interstate 40 in Greensboro to a life sciences research park with nine office, laboratory and retail buildings totaling approximately 440,000 sf. Backers include North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University and the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. The park’s first tenant is the US Department of Agriculture, which will house some of its natural resources conservation service units in a new structure.

The state legislature approved $10 million to speed the center’s development and another $4 million to rehab buildings at the former Central North Carolina School for the Deaf in Greensboro for a second GCID campus. According to GCID executive director John Merrill, the project’s two campuses will take 12 years to 15 years to complete, depending on market demand.

GCID supporters want to build similar developments in nearby cities like Winston-Salem, NC, where local authorities and Wake Forest University play off the 300,000-sf Piedmont Triad Research Park, and Chapel Hill, whose Research Triangle Park–purportedly the largest research park in the world–boasts a roster of 50% pharmaceutical and biotech companies. In the late 1990s, nearly 80% of the latter’s tenants were high-tech firms.

Another entrant to the biotech land rush is Pittsburgh, where the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority revamped the master plan for the Pittsburgh Technology Center to allow a 946,000-sf expansion. The Cleveland-based Ferchill Group plans to build a 135,000-sf, $25-million speculative lab facility in the center, which currently has 684,000 sf of office and research space. The expansion will include light industrial and research space, with a small amount of retail.Last December, Ferchill sold the center’s 153,000-sf Bridgeside Pointe for $31.5 million to MB Pittsburgh Bridgeside DST, a trust affiliated with the Inland Real Estate Group of Cos. of Oak Brook, IL. The five-story building was originally leased to Cellomics Inc., a local life science start-up subsequently acquired by Fisher Scientific International Inc. of Hampton, NH. Tenants include a state-funded incubator, which subleases space to biotech start-ups for $30 per sf to $42 per sf annually. Ferchill is considering picking up the option to develop a third Tech Center building of 150,000 sf.

Also in Pittsburgh, a group headed by a biotech professor at Duquesne University has proposed the creation of a three square mile state Keystone Innovation Zone, designed to promote biotech growth through economic development grants and tax credits. A major goal is to provide affordable workspace for young life science companies linked to the city’s three largest colleges: Duquesne, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie-Mellon University.

According to a report from the Biotechnology Industry Organization in Washington, DC, more than 40,000 US bioscience businesses employed 1.2 million people last year, paying $26,000 more per year than average private-sector wage earners. By comparison, there were fewer than 1,500 biotech US businesses in 1995. However, the biotech sector is in a state of evolution, with new cities competing for development and existing biotech hotspots working to maintain their status.

Just recently, the Baltimore metropolitan area gained one and lost one in its effort to establish itself as a major biotechnology center. MedImmune Inc, headquartered in Gaithersburg, MD, is preparing for a $250-million project in Frederick, MD to increase its manufacturing capacity, with the first phase slated for completion in 2009. The facility will be used to produce flu vaccines under a five-year, $170-million federal contract. At the same time, generic drug maker Actavis Group of Hafnarfurdi, Iceland plans to close its 240-employee plant in suburban Woodlawn and move operations to Lincolnton, NC, about 40 miles northwest of Charlotte. Baltimore also has two biotech research parks in construction, one adjacent to the local campus of the University of Maryland and the other next to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

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