PORTLAND, Maine — City officials Wednesday cut the ribbon on a new biotechnology business park meant to help grow the Portland area’s life sciences sector.
Portland is already home to more than 40 companies in the life sciences sector, which includes animal diagnostics and environmental technology, but the space necessary to attract new companies or to help existing firms expand is limited, according to Gary Goodrich, a long-time biotech executive in Portland and current manager for Bio-Rad Laboratories’ Portland office.
“This technology park, I think, is just what our industry needs,” said Goodrich, who founded Bioprocessing Inc. in Portland in 1990. He recently sold the company to California-based Bio-Rad Laboratories
“The technology industry, the life sciences industry, are global and knowledge-based industries,” Goodrich said. “They support well-paying jobs, they tend to create spin-off companies, they enhance innovation and it gives an opportunity for shared resources.”
About seven years ago, Goodrich was looking for a new location in Portland to expand his business. At the time, he had to make concessions to fit into the available space he could find. He said he would have jumped at the chance to locate his business in a technology park such as this.
“I would have loved a space like this,” said Goodrich, who is also former president of the Biosciences Association of Maine.
The 40-acre park has already received all the necessary regulatory permits, meaning a business owner would only need to receive site plan approval before beginning construction.
Phase One of the park, which is located on Rand Road adjacent to Exit 47 of the Maine Turnpike, involved building a road and public infrastructure necessary for the development of the first three of seven potential sites. Only 26 acres will eventually be developed.
It was funded by a $660,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and a matching amount from the city’s Capital Improvement Program, according to Greg Mitchell, the city’s economic development director.
Construction on the park began last November, and was completed by June, according to Nelle Hanig, the city’s business program manager. The city incorporated low-impact elements into the park’s design, including siting buildings for maximum solar exposure and the use of gravel wetlands for stormwater management. In addition, all buildings will be required to meet the city’s Green Building Code.
Bryan Bozsik, current president of the Biosciences Association of Maine and an employee of Alere Scarborough Inc., said the park will leverage the advantages Portland already has to offer, such as “an unparalleled workforce” and “an engaged, supportive university system.”
“We’re seeing incoming investment in this industry for just those reasons, and Portland is really capitalizing in a timely way on the growth of the life science industry,” Bozsik said. “This will only help draw more attention to the Portland area, and the state, as a hub of life science manufacturing, innovation and opportunity.”
Portland Mayor Michael Brennan said the hope is the park will help Portland grow its high-tech sector and have “huge” spin-off effects in neighboring communities, such as Westbrook and South Portland.
“We think this effort will continue to position us as leaders in the country for creating the jobs of the future that are energy-efficient, that are green, that are progressive and that will allow us to continue to be the great city that we are,” Brennan said.
Maine’s biotech sector employs more than 5,000 people statewide and generates $1.3 billion in revenue, according to the Biosciences Association of Maine. The industry’s economic effect has increased more than 200 percent since 2002.
City Councilor Ed Suslovic called the park a model of how development can occur in an environmentally sustainable fashion.
“This, to me, is a perfect example of how you don’t have to sacrifice protecting the environment in order to advance the economy,” Suslovic said. “In terms of economic sustainability, what I really see here are the jobs of the future. We are now well positioned to be able to capture those opportunities, to bring in new investment and create those jobs of the future.”
Mitchell said the city has received interest in the park from companies, but is not currently in active negotiations with any businesses.
The city is marketing the opportunity through its website, and the Greater Portland Economic Development Corp. is touting the opportunity through its out-of-state business development activities.
Mitchell is hopeful the city will land its first tenant by next year, then attract one business a year after that.
The park will be expanded as tenants are added to keep ahead of demand, Mitchell said.
He said the ideal business is one that is new to the area, but existing life sciences companies in the area looking to expand are also candidates.
“We’d love new businesses that are new to Maine. That would be ideal for us,” he said. “But if [local] businesses experience problems having their needs met, we’d welcome the chance to work with them.”