State, Skokie boost Illinois biotech sector
March 28, 2005
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
biotech industry got a boost from Gov. Blagojevich, Skokie Mayor
George Van Dusen, and Chuck Ratner, CEO of Cleveland-based real
estate developer Forrest City Enterprises. Thanks to these three,
Skokie might someday rival Cambridge and San Diego as a biotech
City paid $43 million to buy a former G.D. Searle property in
downtown Skokie from Pfizer Corp. With $4 million in support from
the state and $10 million in planned funding through the creation
of a tax increment finance district in Skokie, Forrest City intends
to develop the Illinois Technology Innovation Campus on the 23.4-acre
site. Total development costs are estimated at $155 million.
The project is a critical
effort that will help our region capitalize on our academic prowess
in biotech R&D. Typically, Illinois biotech research has enriched
other states as entrepreneurs incubated their businesses beyond
our borders. Insufficient wet-lab space for emerging biotech companies
was seen as a major constraint. Creation of the Technology Innovation
Campus is expected to double available wet lab space for startup
Combined with the governor's
$1 million support for the BIO2006 industry conference, there
is mounting evidence Blagojevich is serious about growing Illinois
biotech. The governor is also showing signs he can engage with
corporate leaders to create "win-win" public-private
partnerships to boost the state's economy.
Jack Lavin, director
of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity,
estimates more than 3,000 new jobs will be created in Skokie.
Lavin predicts 1,000 construction jobs will be created and 10,000
additional jobs will result throughout Illinois.
"We expect this
to have a favorable impact on the Illinois economy of $1.8 billion
annually," Lavin says.
There are still hurdles.
The governor's commitment requires passage of his 2006 capital
budget. Skokie must hold public hearings, ratify the bond issue,
and create the TIF district, in which new property-tax revenue
from the facility is used to bolster infrastructure instead of
going to schools, parks and other local taxing bodies.
gave his commitment we would put this in the budget, and fight
for it," says Lavin, who will brief legislators in April
on a suite of important capital initiatives.
Skokie Mayor Van Dusen
is enthusiastic. The project will bring more than $2 million in
annual additional lunch hour spending within Skokie.
"The village board
ratified the negotiations," says Van Dusen, who expects continued
support when hearings are held. "The positive repercussions
for the village and the state will be enormous," he adds.
University of Chicago
assistant vice president Robert Rosenberg adds, "Forest City
pioneered tech parks at MIT in the 1980s. They've been a leader
ever since. Their investment and the support shown by state and
local government has redoubled our confidence."
Gayle Farris, president
of Forrest City's University Bioscience and Technology Group,
"The Chicago area
has tremendous potential to commercialize research," Farris
says. She should know. She's spent the last 20 years driving Forrest
City's MIT partnership. She'll lend an experienced hand in the
creation of the new Technology Innovation Campus.
Microsoft's Midwest district general manager, today is expected
to ink grants of $516,000 worth of software to two Chicago non-profits.
Services received $491,000 in software, while the Women's Business
Development Center received $25,000 in software.
The grants help these
organizations focus their resources on their core missions and
not on new technology.
"Given the challenges
facing our state, this grant allows us to complete a technology
upgrade without touching our operating funds," says Metropolitan
Family Services CEO Richard Jones.
Women's Business Development
Center Co-President Hedy Ratner credits Microsoft Midwest community
affairs manager Shelley Stern Grach.
"Shelley saw our
technological capability was pretty poor," Ratner says. The
current grant was the result.
Can we expect more
support from Microsoft. You bet. "We're going to continue
to look for other ways to contribute," Gorriaran says.
Krauss is a Chicago area tech writer and consultant.