2/17/2013 8:43:13 PM
Buffalo News: Buffalo’s big bet on biotech
ALBANY – To see what state officials want for Buffalo, head 280 miles east, to the sprawling NanoTech Complex on the University at Albany campus.
In six buildings spread over 50 acres, 3,100 people go to work doing cutting-edge research for computer-chip production. Since 1993, New York State has put $1 billion into the complex, a down payment that spurred companies such as IBM and Intel to invest another $13 billion.
“I like to say about Albany, anybody who wants to do anything, anywhere in nano has to be here,” says Alain E. Kaloyeros, senior vice president and CEO of SUNY Albany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering.
Now the state wants to replicate that with biotech in Buffalo.
Starting with the December announcement that New York State will spend $50 million to build a life-sciences innovation center on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus, the state aims to incubate a biotech cluster in Buffalo, fueled by University at Buffalo innovation, local medical expertise and private investment.
Albany Molecular Research Inc., the first tenant, has pledged to create 75 jobs over five years. The state says it has two so-far-unnamed companies lined up to bring in 178 more jobs, with the total private investment topping $200 million. The state will employ 25 people to manage the center.
The question is whether those seeds can grow into something as big as Albany’s nanotech industry – and become an economic engine for Western New York.
Observers say it will be tough. Nanotech was more of a pioneering field when Albany jumped in. Life sciences these days is already hot, with cities and universities battling for a piece of the action.
And the first step – bringing in AMRI – has critics. “In my mind, an investment in AMRI is a speculative investment. I’ll leave it to others to say whether a speculative investment is good public policy,” said George T. Conboy, president of Brighton Securities in Rochester, one of 20 academics, watchdogs, state officials, current and former AMRI employees and development experts interviewed for this article.
Advocates are confident. They say AMRI employees will start moving into temporary space in Buffalo’s former Trico complex within six months. During the next two years, the state will construct a new $15 million building and spend $35 million more on lab equipment, says Matthew K. Enstice, president of the Medical Campus.
Kaloyeros, who besides running the Albany nanotech effort is a driving force behind the life-sciences investment in Buffalo, says he will stake his reputation on the project producing 500 jobs within three years and 1,000 jobs within five years.
“I can tell you this,” Kaloyeros says. “What I predict, and what the governor wants, is anyone who wants to do anything, anywhere in medical innovation will have to be in Buffalo.”