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Frederick cultivating 'success stories'

December 16, 2008|By ARNOLD S. PLATOU

FREDERICK, Md. -- Heading north on Interstate 270, the view of Frederick lying down in the valley has long been of its historic church spires dominating the landscape.

"But clearly present now," said city economic development chief Richard Griffin, "because it is one of the largest single facilities in the city now, is the MedImmune facility."

The big biotech company is nearly quadrupling its medical manufacturing operation and expects to add as many as 250 workers when the 331,000-square-foot addition is completed, he said.

For Washington County, Frederick County's neighbor to the west, the good news is that the opportunities for such economic expansion are strong, Griffin said.

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That's because of the nearness of Fort Detrick, the military post in Frederick that surrounds a 68-acre enclave owned by the National Cancer Institute and is home to several large governmental bioscience laboratories.

"While the fort is definitely located here, there's a natural advantage to the communities that are close to it," Griffin said. "There's a regional value of that asset we have in our community."

Detrick's hive of laboratories has drawn dozens of biotech companies to the county and, in turn, has resulted in lots more business activity related to the services and products they need, he said.

"And, of course, the benefit of Fort Detrick to Washington County is there as well because of the short distance, and there are companies there that have relationships with companies here."

Success story

Griffin said MedImmune is a good example of what can happen within a region.

About a decade ago, the company wanted to build a manufacturing plant not far from its headquarters in Gaithersburg, Md., he said. It decided on Frederick, opening a 91,000-square-foot plant in 1999 on land behind the BP Solar plant along the Interstate 70-Interstate 270 corridor, he said.

The MedImmune plant, which has about 230 employees, makes Synagis, a medicine designed to help prevent a respiratory tract disease in premature children.

About three or four years ago, the company decided to expand its operation at that site by building a much larger, $250 million facility next door, Griffin said.

The goal is for that facility to open by 2010, according to a recent report from the Frederick County Office of Economic Development. The report also notes that the current 331,000-square-foot expansion is a "first phase with another 170,000 (square feet) in subsequent phases."

Just as being in the same region is important, so too can be the high-tech business incubators that Frederick County has and that, at Hagerstown Community College, Washington County also has, Griffin said.

"If you cultivate those individuals and those companies, you could ultimately end up cultivating the next MedImmune," he said. "In fact, we may not attract another MedImmune here, but we may grow one.

"Over time, you're going to end up with some success stories."

Biotech growth

MedImmune is not Frederick County's only success story when it comes to biotechnology.

Just last month, ground was broken in the northern part of Frederick for Riverside Research Park, a research technology campus for the National Cancer Institute-Frederick and other organizations.

NCI-F is planning to hire "less than, but close to 200 additional employees" when its building opens in early 2011, spokeswoman Cheryl Parrott said. NCI-F already has about 3,000 employees in tens of buildings on its land near Detrick, she said.

The initial phase of the research park, which is being built by Matan Companies of Frederick, is to provide up to 333,000 square feet of space for offices and laboratories. An additional 470,000 square feet for other life-science and high-tech organizations might be built on the 450-acre site later, she said.

John Niederhuber, director of the National Cancer Institute, said in a press release that the research park will be the center of an intensive effort to find new treatments for cancer patients.

Niederhuber said researchers from government, industry, universities and nonprofit organizations will work there, "utilizing technological resources second to none, to more rapidly translate our latest genetic and molecular discoveries about cancer into effective new treatments that benefit patients."

Parrott said NCI-F will be the anchor tenant at the park and space will be leased to research partners. "I believe that several of the major universities, Hopkins, have expressed interest," she said.

She said it is "probably premature" to estimate how many jobs the research park will create.

Even after the new park opens, she said, NCI-F will keep much of its current operations on its land near Detrick.

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