The U.S. Economic Development Administration last week awarded a $1.8-million grant with matching state and local funds to the Biomedical Innovation and Research Park (BRIP).
The BRIP facility is expected to be built in Monroe off Tower-Armand Drive.
The facility, which is expected to cost some $34 million, would serve as an incubator for life science companies and start-ups to develop their business models. The facility would open next to the University of Louisiana-Monroe School of Pharmacy, with construction beginning this year.
“This is a great economic development tool that will help our community,” said Ronald Berry, ULM president. “It’s great for ULM’s healthcare focus because we hopefully will be developing things that have a positive impact on healthcare.”
According to Sue Nicholson, secretary for the BRIP board of directors, the research park would help with “commercialization” of scientific research.
“For researchers, it’s a place they can go that they can collaborate,” Nicholson said. “We try to introduce them to private sector entities who are interested in commercializing the research they’re doing, and ultimately you have spin-off businesses and job creation.”
Nicholson also said ULM researchers would be involved the process of developing the facility. She said there was also potential for students to get involved through internships once the facility was completed.
Nicolson said the research park was completely separate from ULM, but “powered” by ULM. She said several ULM faculty members were involved in the development of the facility.
“We’re beginning to look at who at ULM is doing research that we need to sit down and talk to,” Nicholson said.
“And some of them have relationships with business, so we want to know about that.”
Nicholson said now that the facility had secured most of the funding for the project, the board’s plan was to start finding people and businesses to partner with BRIP.
“Now we’re turning to identifying those researchers, identifying businesses in the community that do research and helping them understand the process of research to commercialization,” Nicholson said.
Within five years, the facility is expected to bring 175 jobs to the area. According to Joe Holyfield, chairman of the BRIP board of directors, these would be high-quality jobs.
“These are highly skilled, well-educated individuals,” Holyfield said. “We hope this will bring more researchers into the community.”
The research park also is expected to offer opportunities in fields that are not scientific.
“There are some really unique things ULM is doing, like the Pelican Cup,” Nicholson said.
The Pelican Cup is an annual business pitch competition for ULM students that was first held earlier this year.
“We’ve already recruited some of the participants in the Pelican Cup to come in and start their business up there,” Nicholson said.
Holyfield said BRIP had received overwhelming support from everyone involved in the project, including local and state legislators.
“It’s easy to be successful because it’s a great project,” Holyfield said. “It involves the whole northeast Louisiana. We have a pretty impressive board of directors, and great support from the governor and LED.”
Nicholson said collective support for a project was rare.
“Everybody’s on board,” Nicholson said. “I was in economic development for 30 years, and that never happens.”
According to Holyfield, construction of the road for the facility was expected to begin by the end of the year and construction of the building was expected to begin next spring or summer. He said the building should be done and have researchers working there within two years. Once the first building was completed, another building could be added.
Nicholson said the research park had obtained some $27.75 million from several funding sources. The funding included $1.15 million from the Ouachita Economic Development Committee, $1.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds from the Ouachita Parish Police Jury, a $2-million appropriation from the state and $19.5 million in capital outlay funding from the state.
The building is expected to cost $22 million and the road leading to the building is expected to cost $6 million.