by Max Brantley
Going public with what he said had been a "quiet effort" for the past four years, Dickson Flake announced today at a meeting with members of the Little Rock board of directors the results of a consultants' report on how Little Rock could go about building a "research park" to bring in new industry to the capital city.
The vision: A 30-acre park within five minutes driving distance of UAMS, UALR and Arkansas Children's Hospital where research projects could be developed for commercial uses. Possible locations: Along the 12th Street Corridor south of I-630 to 12th or south of 12th west to Madison Heights or north of UALR.
The first building: An 84,000 square foot, four-story building with parking for 250 cars. The pricetag: $23.2 million for the building, $4.9 million for infrastructure, $650,000 to $900,000 yearly operating costs.
What's needed now, say Flake and ANGLE Technology Group consultants from Charlottesville, Va.: A "champion" to raise money for land acquisition, infrastructure and staffing, most likely a combination of federal funds, bond issues and taxes. Next: A Research Park Authority appointed by "sponsors" of the park.
ANGLE said the three research institutions are strengths Little Rock can build on to make such a park possible. No "champion" has yet been identified, Lucas Hargraves, chamber business director, said.
UPDATE: A careful Blog reader notes a somewhat related June 10 New York Times article that indicates the national municipal flavor of the day is building biotech research parks and investing millions in hopes someone will come.
Cities like Shreveport, La., and Huntsville, Ala., are also gambling millions in taxpayer dollars on if-we-build-it-they-will-come research parks and wet laboratories, which hold the promise of low-pollution workplaces and high salaries.
At a recent global biotech convention in Atlanta, 27 states, including Hawaii and Oklahoma, paid as much as $100,000 each to entice companies on the exhibition floor. All this for a highly risky industry that has turned a profit only one year in the past four decades.
Skeptics cite two major problems with the race for biotech. First, the industry is highly concentrated in established epicenters like Boston, San Diego and San Francisco, which offer not just scientific talent but also executives who know how to steer drugs through the arduous approval process.