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HCC officials ask county for money to build biotech labs

September 28, 2005|by TARA REILLY

HAGERSTOWN

tarar@herald-mail.com

Chris Marschner said he gets three to four calls a year from biotechnology firms looking for lab space at Hagerstown Community College's Technical Innovation Center to help "startup" businesses.

But because HCC doesn't have the facilities, Marschner, director of the Innovation Center, said he must refer the firms to other parts of Maryland.

As a result, the county is possibly missing out on high-paying biotechnology and life science jobs, HCC President Guy Altieri told the Washington County Commissioners on Tuesday.

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Altieri and Marschner discussed HCC's plans to build five or six biotechnology labs, also known as "wet labs," at the college's Innovation Center.

The Innovation Center typically serves as an "incubator" for new or expanding technology-based or manufacturing-based businesses by providing space and other resources to help startup firms.

The biotechnology project's costs could range from $500,000 to $1.5 million, depending on whether HCC renovates space within the Innovation Center or whether it builds an addition to the center, Altieri said.

"Economic development studies clearly show that to attract larger biotechnology firms to an area, the jurisdiction must demonstrate that it has the capacity to support the needs of the industry," Altieri wrote in a Sept. 8 letter to County Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook.

At the request of HCC, the commissioners agreed Tuesday to pay $16,000 toward a $32,000 feasibility study that will determine whether there's a need for the labs in the county.

Altieri told the commissioners he anticipates the study will find the need exists for the labs.

The Maryland Technology Department Corp. (TEDCO) has agreed to match the commissioners' pledge, giving HCC enough money for the study, Altieri said.

Altieri wrote in the letter that he expects new firms to be created in the area as a result of the federal government's $5 billion plan to create a biodefense campus at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md.

According to economic development statistics, there are approximately 3,240 people who have jobs in the life sciences field who live in the county, and more than 10,000 live within an hour of the county, Altieri said in the letter.

"Despite having a sizable workforce that regularly passes through our county to neighboring jurisdictions to work in the life sciences professions, we do not have a visible biotech presence in the county," Altieri wrote.

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