Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Biotech Idea Applauded | Research Community Could Help Region Gain Prestige as a Destination for Specialized Jobs

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Biotech Idea Applauded | Research Community Could Help Region Gain Prestige as a Destination for Specialized Jobs

Article excerpt

CORE AT LAKEWOOD RANCH

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- The ambitious plan for a biomedical research park in this master-planned community, if successful, will help Southwest Florida gain critical mass as a destination for highly paid job candidates with specialized skills in biotechnology, information sciences and health care, experts say.

"I think it is phenomenal, to be honest," said Caroline Popper, a biotech and health sciences consultant who lives in Sarasota. "To me, this is the biggest statement of intent that we have seen in this region, the intent to build a cluster."

"When you don't have a big academic center like Harvard, and you don't have an anchor company, you have to start with something," Popper said.

She ventured that Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc., the master developer of Lakewood Ranch, already has clues about prospects that would commit to the park.

"The reason is, a lot of regions compete. So I think I don't think they would throw themselves into the competition without some real prospects for succeeding. And succeeding requires an anchor," she said.

"They sensed an opportunity in this space of health innovation, and they are invested in

trying to pursue it, in the context of their park idea," said Mark Huey, president of the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County. "To me, it kind of affirms that there is an opportunity. That is how I look at it."

Schroeder-Manatee's development arm, Lakewood Ranch Commercial, worked with nationally known Flad Architects to develop a master plan for the 265-acre park, which could result in 4.2 million square feet of construction during the next 10 to 20 years. The project mirrors the biotech vision for Southwest Florida created when, in 2011, Bangor, Maine-based Jackson Laboratory came close to building an institute for personalized medicine in the Sarasota-Bradenton area.

The concept then and now is to build on the region's strength in health care and a growing cadre of life science companies, and to market the region's amenities to companies that can pick and choose a site based on the ability to recruit high-paid researchers to move here.

When the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. was working on its new strategic plan, says CEO Sharon Hillstrom, a consultant offered, "No one is owning life sciences on the west coast of Florida. …

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