A group of public officials and economic development figures recently launched a research park in Monroe to attract biomedical, science and technology companies to the region.
The Biomedical Research and Innovation Park, a nonprofit organization, would partner with the University of Louisiana-Monroe and could occupy a proposed facility near the university's College of Pharmacy facility off Tower Drive.
“This is not only a biomedical research park because we want to encourage innovation in all fields and spur on economic development throughout northeast Louisiana,” said Dr. Ray Armstrong, of Monroe, who began spearheading the creation of the research park more than 10 years ago.
ULM President Ron Berry noted the research park would not be owned by the university, though ULM hopes to be involved in the park's research projects and development efforts.
“We are just a part of it, it's not a ULM project per se, but we know that a research park can be a great economic development tool,” Berry said. “On campus, we have a business incubator that helps small businesses get on their feet. A research park is similar to that, but it's more focused and you're usually working with intellectual property that can be commercialized. It's the next step for our region.”
Berry is one of the 19 members serving on the Biomedical Research and Innovation Park's board of directors. Other members include developers, medical professionals, Louisiana Delta Community College Chancellor Scott Rule, Mayor Staci Mitchell, Mayor Friday Ellis, representatives from local chambers of commerce and economic development organizations, among many others.
“Because of the university's health-sciences college, the research park would initially have a biomedical focus,” Berry said. “The idea is to place the park right next to our College of Pharmacy, pending board approval and a number of other, but we're looking at extending some of our existing relationships with other area companies, too.”
Armstrong said he first nurtured the hope of establishing a research park in Monroe in September 2007 after attending an Association of University Research Parks gathering. The project needed funding for a feasibility study, which he obtained—in part—from Entergy Louisiana and Monroe developer Joe Holyfield, with Holyfield Inc.
“I've talked to many people about it for years,” Armstrong said. “I could not have been as successful if other people had not gotten involved.”
Amanda Edge, with Entergy Louisiana, said the utility company wanted to invest in the project to support ULM's College of Pharmacy.
“We also believed this could lead to other economic development opportunities,” Edge said.
Though the research park could tackle any research or economic development project as determined by its board, the park's board was considering efforts to bring pharmaceutical manufacturing companies to the region as one of its first projects, according to Berry and Holyfield.
“We put together a package to attract pharmaceutical companies,” Holyfield said. “I would think our greatest potential could be in pharmaceuticals. I think people will be surprised about how successful this research park will be, especially if we can attract companies in the pharmaceutical industry to the area. Those companies will bring jobs with good salaries.”
Berry noted that much of the country's drug production took place outside the country.
“I think there's a lot of interest in areas like that,” Berry said.
Sue Nicholson, president and chief executive officer of the Monroe Chamber of Commerce, pointed out the Biomedical Research and Innovation Park could attract companies in a number of different industries, too.
“The park is looking at all sectors, including the pharmaceutical field and the medical field, and leveraging some of the contacts our colleges have,” Nicholson said. “Companies in those fields want access to medical graduates. I think there's some real potential there for growth in the future.”
According to Holyfield, there were 12 acres behind ULM's College of Pharmacy building on Bienville Drive.
“We are looking at building a building there,” Holyfield said.
Holyfield is the chairman of the Ouachita Economic Development Corp.'s board of directors. The OEDC's board committed a total of $450,000 to the research park over the next three years.
“Funding is usually the problem, but that doesn't appear to be the problem here,” Holyfield said. “We would've done this a year ago but with the change of leadership at the university, the community college, in West Monroe and Monroe, and then the pandemic, we slowed down more than we wanted.”
“It takes a while to pull these things together,” he added.
Louisiana Economic Development has committed its support to the project as well, according to Holyfield and Nicholson.
“That's a significant factor,” Nicholson said.
At this point, the Biomedical Research and Innovation Park is relying on volunteers. The Monroe Chamber of Commerce has committed its staff and resources to providing administrative support for the research park, according to Nicholson.
“We're going to handle that for them,” Nicholson said. “We're excited. The park's board have some really incredible plans.”
The research park is relying on the experience of its consultant, Charles D'Agostino, who serves as the director of the Louisiana State University Innovation Park in Baton Rouge.
“The research park in Baton Rouge is a model for us,” Berry said. “We want to bring as many people together as possible to create something that could benefit the entire region.”