Bioscience Initiative harnesses eds, meds and ‘ready-to-go’ building sites to generate jobs


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We’ve built it and they’ve come.
The multi-county Regional Bioscience Initiative (RBI), anchored upon the concentration of expertise found at The Commonwealth Medical College and among the region’s institutions of higher learning, is focused on linking college and university research and development programs; expanding career awareness, education and training; attracting and retaining workforce; further developing entrepreneurial support systems; real estate availability; and business outreach.
It includes third-party consultants, which, among others, include consulting firms AngelouEconomics of Austin, Texas and Tripp Umbach of Pittsburgh.
The NEPA RBI collaboration will proceed based upon AngelouEconomics’ conclusions. “Their eight-county economic development strategic plan, completed in June 2011, indicated northeastern Pennsylvania has base resources currently in place to grow a vital, dynamic biosciences sector and significant health-care-based economy,” said Scranton Plan administrator, Amy Luyster.
Data provided by Tripp Umbach indicates the health-care industry in the RBI footprint has a current economic impact north of $4 billion and employs more than 43,000, making health care the largest sector employer in NEPA.
In December, the initiative got a boost when the Corbett Administration announced the award of a $305,000 “Discovered in PA, Developed in PA” (D2PA) grant and a $187,000 grant from the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority in conjunction with the Keystone Innovation Network (KIN) program.
No one knows better than Mericle Commercial Real Estate just how robust the growing life sciences sector is. With seven companies already located at CenterPoint in Luzerne County’s Jenkins and Pittston Townships, those seven employ close to 800 people.
Most recently, Corning Life Sciences, a leading developer, manufacturer, and global supplier of scientific laboratory equipment, agreed to lease an additional 124,000 square feet of industrial space from Mericle Commercial Real Estate Services in CenterPoint East.
Corning offers a comprehensive range of laboratory products and solutions for a wide variety of life-sciences applications. The company is a division of Corning Incorporated, the world leader in specialty glass and ceramics.
Atty. Joseph Burke, president of the Greater Pittston Chamber of Commerce, said CenterPoint’s growth as a preferred location for companies serving the life sciences and health-care sectors is a good indicator that the recently launched NEPA RBI has merit.
Mericle’s Jim Cummings serves on RBI’s logistics-focused roundtable. Cummings notes that NEPA still lags the state and nation on key economic indicators, such as employment rate and per capita income. The NEPA RBI is a strategic effort to create higher value-added jobs in NEPA.  “The opening of The Commonwealth Medical College, the overall growth of the health-care sector in our area, the tremendous investments by Geisinger and Commonwealth Health,” when combined with our existing strengths, such as a highly productive workforce, 15 colleges and universities, lower business costs, and close proximity to major metro areas, should produce some NEPA RBI successes, which will have a very positive impact on our local economy,” he said.
Having quality existing space and sites available, said Cummings, will be key in the overall success of the regional initiative. “We think it is critical that we have a variety of space available when NEPA RBI targets are considering to locate in our area.  By continuing to develop a wide variety of space on speculation in CenterPoint, Mericle will be doing its part to further this promising initiative.”
Through Mericle’s Ready to Go Program, Mericle has developed 21 industrial and flex buildings in CenterPoint and all but a few, said Cummings, were built on speculation. Mericle plans to develop office space in the park in the near future, and has also developed in the park more than 30 “Ready to Go Sites.”
These sites have been cleared, graded, and have all permits and approvals in place. They are truly ready for immediate construction and give NEPA a huge competitive advantage when companies have specialized needs, a short time frame, and can only operate within a newly-built facility.
Going forward, said Cummings, Mericle plans to develop more than 50 additional buildings in CenterPoint East and West. 
The opportunity northeastern Pennsylvania has in the bioscience arena is built on four pillars: nascent industries; “eds;” an entrepreneurial ecosystem; and assets in terms of medical devices, says Ken Okrepkie, regional manager for the Pocono Northeast region of Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Northeastern Pennsylvania. “In the medical devices arena, you have companies like Pride Mobility and Benco Dental. In the bioscience arena, you have Noble Biomaterials.”
Noble created X-Static, which is being used by virtually everyone in the health care, medical, apparel, textiles, military and government services, industrial, and electronics industries. The company is a global leader in bacterial management solutions, developing, manufacturing, selling and marketing advanced antimicrobial technologies designed to manage all forms of bacterial contamination for medical, defense, industrial and consumer markets.
“Then,” said Okrepkie, “you have Sanofi Pasteur,” the vaccines division of Sanofi, a leading global pharmaceutical company that “discovers, develops and distributes therapeutic solutions to improve the lives of everyone.”
Also on the medical devices side, said Okrepkie, the region is rich in plastics manufacturers and machine shops, both needed assets. “You have to build prototyping and initial products to test the marketplace and go through FDA certifications. You need that manufacturing capacity. And so we can leverage the industry partners that are here to launch products here. So, we can be a great staging area for medical device companies.”
“The question regarding nascent industries is ‘How do we either build companies to support them or attract companies who then replicate the success they’ve had here in northeastern Pennsylvania?’ And then, how do we leverage that. It’s about strength, it’s about equipment, it’s about infrastructure, and from an institution of higher education perspective, it’s about graduating a skilled workforce on an annual basis.”
The Great Valley Technology Alliance of Northeastern Pennsylvania and Technology Institute built the Intellectual Asset Inventory to spot and account the assets within the region’s colleges and universities. Now, Okrepkie said, that database, usable by companies here or at a distance, includes more than 700 identified pieces of scientific equipment, more than 1,000 publications, and more than 1,000 faculty members complete with detailed information that highlights their expertise.
The next stage in the database, said Okrepkie, is including an industry side so Ben Franklin and partners can talk about where scientists are in northeastern Pennsylvania. Also, Okrepkie said, there have been are a series of individual, hosted roundtables on topics ranging from pharma and medical devices and logistics and distribution of products to enhancing the initiative’s research capabilities and capacity here in northeastern Pennsylvania.
“The idea is to bring talented people who are associated with these industries together and put them in a room and say ‘How could northeastern Pennsylvania being stronger?’
“We’re going to listen to what the people in industry are saying, what people in higher education are saying, what people in the economic development community are saying, and come together and say, ‘Here’s how we think we can leverage this opportunity.’”

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