By Chris Barrett
PBN Staff Writer
Massachusetts and Fall River officials are making a bet, and this one does not involve poker, blackjack, roulette or the like. Instead, the commonwealth and city officials are throwing their support behind a $25 million bio-manufacturing facility they say promises to ignite economic development in a city walloped by the Great Recession.
The facility has been envisioned for years, but its future became murky when Fall River Mayor William A. Flanagan floated the idea of selling the land to the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, which wanted to build a casino. But the plan faced public opposition, a group of taxpayers sued to stop the sale of the property and the state legislature failed to approve gambling at the site.
“Time was coming to an end where we had to make a decision,” said Kenneth Fiola Jr., executive vice president of the Fall River Office of Economic Development.
So last month, with great fanfare, the city and state announced plans to proceed with the facility that will be affiliated with the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
“You don’t have to look too far into the crystal ball in Massachusetts to figure out that life sciences is one of the emerging sectors of our economy,” said Paul Vigeant, assistant chancellor for economic development at UMass Dartmouth.
The roughly 25,000-square-foot facility is designed to anchor what university officials envision as a corporate park teeming with life science companies off Route 24. Expected to open in 2013, the facility will sit on four acres of city-donated land within 150 acres of land set aside for a biopark. Another neighboring 150 acres is being designated as a technology park. The city has pledged not to pursue development of a casino on any of that land.
The economic-development hope goes like this: pharmaceutical companies rent space in the facility to test manufacturing new drugs and pay a fraction of the rent they would elsewhere. Those companies draw on the expertise of UMass faculty, use student interns and hire locally. Eventually, some succeed and build full-scale production facilities nearby.
Within about a decade Vigeant said the university believes the facility could spawn 8,000 jobs, $280 million in annual payroll and $275 million in private-development investment.