Study rates county's costs to biotech

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Palm Beach County is a cheaper place to run a biotechnology company than most U.S. cities that have major centers of bioscience research. But it costs more to operate here than other many "emerging" markets with which the county will compete for new biotech businesses.

That's according to The Boyd Co., a Princeton, N.J., consulting firm that just released a study on the cost of running a biotech business with 75,000 square feet of laboratory space and 100 employees in the top 50 biotech markets in the country.

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With the building of a Florida laboratory to accommodate The Scripps Research Institute and the biotech business expected to follow, Palm Beach County is considered one of the country's "emerging centers for new biotech investment in the years immediately ahead," according to the Boyd study.

It put the overall annual cost to operate a biotech firm here at $9.9 million. That's less than major biotech centers such as San Francisco; Boston; San Diego; San Jose, Calif.; and Montgomery County, Md. But it is higher than Research Triangle Park in North Carolina; Austin, Texas; Phoenix; Birmingham, Ala.; and St. Louis.

Before this year, Boyd wouldn't have included Palm Beach County in the study, which reviewed operating expenses such as leasing rates, labor costs, corporate travel, the number of workers in the region with advanced life-science degrees and utility costs.

"It's now considered a location with a precedent for the biotech industry. Last year, it wouldn't have made the list," said John Boyd, president of The Boyd Co. "We see Palm Beach County as the next Research Triangle for biotech."

The factor driving up the cost of doing scientific business in this county is the steep price of commercial real estate.

For example, the leasing expense for a year was estimated at nearly $2 million in Palm Beach County, more than most biotech centers in the Southeast region.

In this region, only Fairfax County in northern Virginia had higher annual leasing costs, $2.1 million.

Lower annual leases on commercial space can be found in Montgomery County, $1.8 million; in Birmingham; Memphis, $1.5 million; and in Raleigh/Durham, N.C., $1.4 million.

"In Palm Beach County, we don't have a large inventory of available (leasing) rates," said Gary Hines, executive vice president of the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County.

Still, Palm Beach County has one major advantage that only a handful of the top markets can boast, and no others are in the Southeast.

"Companies are looking for a competitive edge in recruiting the top scientists, and the lack of a personal income tax is a big carrot they can offer," Boyd said.

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