Fairfax County makes push for biotechnology space

Local,Maryland,Virginia,Taylor Holland,Fairfax County

Fairfax County officials are hoping to lure scientists to the west side of the Potomac with state-of-the-art labs and a new focus on biotechnology.

With the looming threat of sequestration -- $1 trillion in spending cuts and the cascading effect that shrinking federal budgets would have on government employees and contractors -- the county is looking to invest in a sector less reliant on government spending and says biotech is its answer.

So officials are beginning to establish plans to build more wet labs, areas where chemicals and other materials are tested in fluids, to attract private companies and scientists to the county.

"We have the information technology component," said Supervisor Pat Herrity, R-Springfield. "What we need is a little more of the biotech component. But you can't get that without wet lab space."

But their push to build labs may not be good news for Montgomery County, where officials' focus on biotech has consistently attracted some of the nation's top science industries to Maryland.

The main campus of the National Institutes of Health calls Montgomery County home, as does the headquarters of the Food and Drug Administration. The county also has plans in place for construction of the Great Seneca Science Corridor, a massive center dedicated to various science industries, and hopes to continue to attract biotech businesses to Maryland.

"We see [biotech] as the future of Montgomery County," said Councilwoman Nancy Floreen, D-at large. "Not only that, but it's an area Montgomery County is totally committed to."

Gerald Gordon, president and CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, said he expects only a little competition between the neighboring counties as Northern Virginia begins to shift its focus to studying microorganisms.

"Maryland probably needs a little IT support, and Virginia needs a bit more wet lab space," he said.

Fairfax has "a real interest" in creating labs and expects their development to create high-paying jobs in the county, Gordon said. The shift also will fill open office space and diversify the county's economy by lessening its reliance on federal contractors.

Herrity said the county "needs to take advantage" of the opportunity to create more lab space while the opportunity exists.

"Biotech and high tech are converging," Herrity said, "but we need lab space to take advantage of that convergence."

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