Donald Fry: Despite the recession, bioscience growth still percolates in Baltimore

By Donald C. Fry

The recession has clearly affected the recent pace of growth in the Baltimore region’s three major bioscience and research parks. But, after listening to an update that managers of the parks delivered to Greater Baltimore Committee members this week, it’s easy to also recognize that bioscience industry growth is still percolating in the Baltimore region.

Key information reported at the GBC’s BioParks event on May 11 suggests that bioscience development activity may have slowed in the recession years, but it is far from stagnant.

Consider the following updates on the three parks:

• The bwtech@UMBC Research and Technology Park. Launched 21 years ago as an incubator housed in 8,000 square-feet of trailers on the UMBC campus in Catonsville, the research park has grown to 515,000 square feet in seven facilities that house 55 bioscience and IT tenants with 1,250 employees. And UMBC is brainstorming potential strategies to expand its research park, says Ellen Hemmerly, the park’s president and executive director.

• UMB BioPark. Launched in 2003 on Baltimore’s west side, this park now houses 20 tenants with 500 employees in three buildings totaling 470,000 square feet, according to Jim Hughes, president of UMB’s Research Park Corporation. The park’s capital development has been financed almost entirely by private investors.

• The Science & Technology Park at Johns Hopkins. Located on Baltimore’s east side, the park has 13 tenants employing 650 in its first bioscience building, which opened in April 2008 at the beginning of the recession, reports Scott Levitan, senior vice president at Forest City, the facility’s developer. The 280,000 square-foot lab, office and retail facility, located on Wolfe Street adjacent to the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, is 80 percent leased.

Of course, the three projects have felt the effects of the recession. All three managers report that recruiting tenants has gotten tougher during the last two years and has prompted the parks to offer prospective tenants more flexible lease terms and options for financing improvements, ranging from creative private financing to state-funded grants and low-interest loans.

State incentive programs have gotten tighter during the recession. All of the park managers agreed that the most effective incentive, however, is the state’s biotech investment tax credit.

In 2008, Governor Martin O’Malley proposed a plan for the state to invest $1 billion in bioscience industry growth over 10 years. A key element of that plan was to increase available biotech investment tax credits to $12 million in 2009 and to $24 million by 2013.

The recession, however, got in the way and the state did not increase the amount of available credits during the last two years, but did retain the existing $6 million in funding for the incentive. This year, the Maryland General increased available bioscience tax credits to $8 million, which will help bioscience park developers, park managers said.

But the demand for these tax credits is substantial, generating long lines of bioscience executives and investors to apply for the credits each July 1 when they become available. It’s obvious that the sooner the state can return to its bioscience growth game plan, and make significantly more biotech investment tax credits available, the better.

After a more than two-year period when state funding to support tenant financing and state incentives to nurture bioscience industry growth have been throttled by the recession, the bioparks nevertheless continue to provide a glimpse of the continuing potential in Baltimore and Maryland for bioscience and technology industry growth.

The three Baltimore region bioparks combined now house 88 tenants and 2,400 employees. They’ve already generated more than $260 million in private investment in their development.

A particularly compelling indicator is that, during last two recession years, the Science and Technology Park at Johns Hopkins leased 90,000 square feet of new space, and all three of the region’s research parks added tenants.

That tells you something. Imagine the possibilities for the Baltimore region when, and if, the state can commit more financial incentives to bioscience industry growth.

It’s something to think about for many elected leaders who list “jobs, jobs, jobs” as their top policy priority.

Donald C. Fry is president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. He is a regular contributor to Center Maryland.

Previous Center Maryland columns by Donald C. Fry:

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Amended budget continues recession-induced fund shifts and stimulus rescue

General Assembly setting stage for combined reporting push in 2011

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