City woos 6 biotech firms
Researchers, affordability, work force could lure more companies to Southwest Portland, PDC says
At least six bioscience companies are considering locating in Southwest Portland's nascent biotech district, according to Don Mazziotti, executive director of the Portland Development Commission.
Mazziotti said he could not identify the companies because of confidentiality agreements but said three are from California and the others are from Washington state, Canada and Switzerland.
No deal has been struck yet with any of the six, but their interest in Portland shows that the city's plans for developing bioscience labs and other research facilities in the North Macadam District and in the Southwest Corbett Avenue area are paying off, Mazziotti said.
Bioscience companies 'are already coming, inquiring and looking for locations,' he said. 'And we believe we can meet their time frame and other requirements.'
In fact, PDC staff members are actively recruiting 15 bioscience companies, though the agency is paying special attention to six, he said. About 9,000 jobs could be created in the North Macadam District in the next 20 years, at least half of them by Oregon Health & Science University.
That could be encouraging news for the city, whose unemployment rate shot up last month to 8.8 percent from 8.1 in May, the highest June rate in 20 years.
To recover, the city must continue efforts 'to recruit companies that further diversify our economy,' which is what the new companies would do, Mazziotti said.
The city has pinned hopes for significant job growth on the plan to develop the 31-acre North Macadam Urban Renewal Area, with OHSU serving as an anchor for a science and technology center.
OHSU plans to build 1.5 million square feet of labs, clinics, classrooms and offices to allow the Marquam Hill-based university to expand.
The hope is that the facilities will attract small, private bioscience companies that will develop products based on OHSU research or that will want to locate in the development because research facilities are available, said Steve Stadum, OHSU's general counsel.
Meanwhile, Portland State University plans to establish a similar 'incubator' building at 2828 S.W. Corbett St., formerly occupied by David Evans and Associates Inc., an engineering and consulting firm.
PSU acquired a lease on the building July 1 as 'a facility that will help start-up companies get established,' said Jay Kenton, PSU vice president for finance and administration.
These projects 'create buzz in the industry, get people interested,' Mazziotti said.
Mazziotti listed reasons the companies are looking at Portland. For one thing, business costs are lower here than in Seattle, San Francisco and other West Coast cities.
Also, he said, Portland is attractive to the work force that the companies 'are interested in attracting: urban, sophisticated, highly educated.'
But perhaps most important, the city will be able to offer something it hasn't been able to provide before facilities close to OHSU and PSU research labs and scientists.
In fact, the PDC will invest$5 million in the facility that OHSU will build in the first phase of the North Macadam development 'to provide for commercialization opportunities,' Mazziotti said.
Architect Jerry Ward, who lives and works in the North Macadam area and serves on the PDC's North Macadam Urban Renewal Advisory Committee, is not impressed.
He is 'apprehensive' about the PDC's plans to pursue bioscience companies because Portland and Oregon have lagged behind other cities and states in developing bioscience as an industry.
'Portland is way behind,' he said, 'and to catch up, we are throwing money down a rathole. We're spending a lot of money chasing these companies. If there are six companies (interested in Portland), why not say what kind of services they will offer? We can't afford to do this.'
But Mazziotti said PDC is recruiting companies that 'have an established business model and are successful at what they do.'
In other words, he said, they will not need subsidies such as 'free rent' to get started. They are companies in specialized bioscience fields that develop medical devices, bio-information systems or 'biomaterials,' he said.
OHSU's plan for the North Macadam site 'is to develop the kind of research that goes from bench to bedside or clinic, practical applications for doctors and patients,' said OHSU's Stadum.
It will be 'the kind of research that will get to the commercial market with the most impact,' he said.
The facility that OHSU will build in the development's first phase will accommodate the university's need to grow, Stadum said. That means space for medical clinics, clinical trials, labs and computer facilities, and offices.
Also, Oregon State University will run its Portland programs from the OHSU building, some of them jointly with OHSU, such as the pharmacy program, Stadum said.
With space in the first OHSU building on North Macadam quickly filling up, Stadum said, the university will need to know in the next several months whether to reserve space for a bioscience company.
'We would love to have private industry locate in or near us,' he said. 'That's the long-term strategy.'
PSU's Kenton said the PDC already has referred a prospective tenant for the facility on Corbett Avenue. Though he wouldn't identify it, he said it is a medical device manufacturer that employs about 40 people.
PSU has made a proposal to the company 'and there are other companies we are talking to,' Kenton said.
'You'll see as it gets started, it will start to fill up,' he said. 'We believe the demand is there.'