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10 years of bioscience: looking at the BAC

The outside of the Biotechnology Advancement Center is shown last week. The building has two parts, incubator bays in the back and office space in the front. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- Ten years ago, the city of Worthington had a vision.

Its hope was to improve and grow the biosciences to help create opportunities within the city. Ensuing discussions, in turn, led to the establishment of the Bioscience Park, as well as the Biotechnology Advancement Center (BAC).

"Ten years ago, city officials got together and they had a planning session to identify what would be our biggest strength and have the most potential for growth in the community," said Chris Witzel, interim manager of the Worthington Regional Economic Development Corp. (WREDC). "They identified the biosciences because of some of the previous success of some of the people here in Worthington and some of the different things they were able to do with their companies and startups."

Now, the city of Worthington is asking for an additional $300,000 to help complete the BAC.

"We have a piece of legislation in the legislature this year to rededicate $300,000 of that original $2.5 million for the build out of the lab," City Administrator Craig Clark said. "We want to rededicate the surplus of those funds to build out of the lab space.

"The whole concept of the BAC is to provide high-value, low-cost space for working with biotechnology companies," Clark continued. "When they grow and prosper and grow from their infancy to the next stage, they can build in the bioscience park where we have ready land available for their new construction of their facilities to free up the incubator for other perspective clients."

The exact amount the city is asking for is $313,947.17, according to Sen. Bill Weber.

"I certainly had no difficulty whatsoever in signing on to authorize this bill," Weber said. "What this this money is, of course, is money that was not used from the original appropriation of $2.5 million for that development. It's a really easy request to make. Hopefully they will approve it.

"Certainly, the project, I believe, has proven itself in Worthington," Weber added. "They have certainly done everything they had hoped to do. It's proven to be a success. I think that to reauthorize these funds is certainly justifiable to go forward and finish out the project."

When the building was first envisioned, it was seen as a place to not only grow business, but to create a space to educate lab technicians.

"We're trying to retain some of our better students and let them get their degree all while in Worthington, and hopefully they will follow suit and get employed right here in Worthington," Witzel said.

The beginning

The BAC became a reality out of a Blandin Foundation leadership program in the early 2000s.

"That process asked the participants from each community to identify strengths and weaknesses and talk about an area of a strength they wanted to focus on," Worthington Director of Community and Economic Development Brad Chapulis said. "It ended up being the biosciences. The results of that ended up putting together a list of priorities from that process; the result has been the bioscience park and the BAC."

The city went to the Minnesota Legislature and requested funding for the park, located on U.S. 59 North.

"We went to the legislature and were successful in getting resources for infrastructure for a bioscience park, which as you see out there provides an opportunity for bioscience growth and expansion," Clark said. "We went collaboratively with the county and built an incubator shell. The city has subsequently bought them out of that shell and was also successful in getting more grant funding from the state and federal government for the construction of a Biotechnology Advancement Center, which is the addition onto the business incubator."

The incubator part of the building was constructed attachment, followed by the front part, which is now home to the University of Minnesota Extension.

"They built a spec building that is the back half of the BAC," Witzel said. "When that sat vacant for a few years, they realized they needed to add on the front office space, so they got more grant money to do that as well. In all, $4.7 million was raised for the bioscience park and the BAC together."

While millions have been invested, only $400,000 came from the city, according to Chapulis.

The three bays in the back are intended to give businesses a place to grow their company.

"The intention is for them to start building a workforce and build their capital to ultimately build out in the Bioscience Park," Chapulis said.

There are 20 plots of land around the park for potential businesses to grow.

Use of money

The money the city is asking for is not additional money. In fact, it's money returned to the state from the last grant.

"When we put in infrastructure for the whole facility of the Bioscience Park, there was $313,000 left over from that," Witzel said. "Under that grant, we were not allowed to use it for anything but infrastructure. We couldn't repurpose it to use the lab. What's going through legislation right now is to get that repurposed for a lab build-out and for some signage that will go up around the park."

On the southwest corner of the building sits a big empty room. It's that space where the lab would go.

"The drywall is up, the sprinklers are up, everything is up," Witzel said. "They left out concrete because they didn't know where they wanted tables. The plumbing they are going to need can still be roughed in now to however they want it in the room. That's why they left that undone. Between the concrete and the finish, we estimate that will be about $80,000 to finish."

Since the original idea of the BAC was to mix business and education, the build-out of the lab will help with both aspects.

"The lab is intended to be used by the private side, as well as be the educational component, allowing the educational component to move from Newport Laboratories to the BAC," Chapulis said. "That's the missing link that we're working toward."

The money will be used to not only finish infrastructure within the room, but upgrade the water system and install lab equipment and furniture.

Weber is hopeful the money will be included in the overall bonding bill.

"Certainly, the dollars are small in comparison to many requests," he said. "Since it was approved once and it's a continuation of that, hopefully it will be viewed favorably.

"It's pretty simple and straight forward. Now we just have to play the waiting game."


All three of the incubator bays are currently occupied by Bioverse, which has given the park a jumpstart.

"The original design was for three separate businesses, one in each bay," Witzel said. "Well, when we heard about Bioverse needing a location, we kind of pitched ourselves as we could give them a spot. They were a little larger than we had anticipated, so we actually rented out all three bays to them."

"They are still a growing company, so they are still incubating -- it's just they started out at a higher maturity than we originally planned for," Witzel continued. "We planned for brand new startups with three employees, but we got a medium-sized company with 15 employees. There is really no downside to it."

Now, it's just a matter of continuing to connect education and business together within the BAC.

The annual Regional Bioscience Conference April 18-19 also helps shed light on the success of the biosciences in Worthington.

"Growth and development takes time in Greater Minnesota; we have to be patient and keep focus on it," Clark said. "We've been committed to it for some time. There's always some that question if we should move on to something else and is this what we should be doing. But we've developed a sense for that regionally and across the state for animal biosciences that Worthington has been very proactive for those things."

Both Witzel and Chapulis agreed the focus on biosciences has been a success.

"Has it been a success? Nothing is done overnight," Chapulis said. "We have a project that has a tip scale of local versus state and federal dollars to which this vision at this point in time has created 10 jobs with the first company. In my eyes, this is the foundation of stuff we're looking to do.

"What we've accomplished and the resources we've utilized what we have to date is the foundation of what we're going to see in the future," Chapulis added. "You can't say success based on one, but our goal is that is occurs over and over again until the park is full."

Daily Globe Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.