Friday, November 13, 2009

Centre for Business and Research Receives $1 Million in EDA Funding

The U.S. Economic Development Administration says Owensboro's Centre for Business and Research will eventually create 50 jobs and generate $20 million worth of private investment in the community.

That's why the agency is pumping $986,000 into the center to buy wet lab equipment.

During a news conference at the center Thursday, U.S. Rep. Brett Guthrie said the community won the federal grant by "having the best idea" for how to spend the money.

"It was a competitive grant," he said. "Owensboro was competing against other cities."

High-tech companies "don't like stuffy office buildings," Guthrie said. "They like interesting buildings."

And the idea of using an old tobacco warehouse to, among other things, search for cures for cancer was intriguing to people in Washington, said Guthrie, a Bowling Green Republican.

The 37,000-square-foot brick warehouse at 1016 Allen St. was built in 1923 for the Southwestern Tobacco Co.

Daviess County Judge-Executive Reid Haire said the city has invested $2.5 million in the center and the county has put up $500,000. With the federal money for the wet labs, the project is already approaching $4 million.

And Haire said he's hoping the state will also come up with some financial support for the center.

Madison Silvert, vice president of the Greater Owensboro Economic Development Corp. and executive director of its eMerging Ventures Center for Innovation, said the first two tenants -- Dalisha's Desserts and Hollison Technologies -- should be moving into the building by the end of December or early in January.

He said he's also working with two other possible tenants and hopes to have announcements about them soon.

Silvert said the estimate of 50 jobs and $20 million in private investment is based on a similar facility in Bowling Green.

He said EDC has set a goal of having 10 companies in the center within three years.

"I think things will really pick up after we go to the BIO International Convention in Chicago in May," Silvert said.

The wet labs, to be funded by federal dollars, should be ready to open by February, he said.

"No startup company could afford some of the equipment we'll have in the wet labs," Silvert said. "Without this grant, they would have to go somewhere for the equipment."

EDC actually has a list of $1.9 million in lab equipment that it wants for the center.

The list of 60 items needed for the wet lab includes a $300,000 mass spectrometer, two $10,000 microscopes with cameras, two $8,000 biological safety cabinets, two $12,000 freezers that cool to 80 degrees below zero and $60,000 worth of general laboratory equipment.

The wet labs make it more likely that some high-tech startup companies will locate in Owensboro, Silvert said.

The federal money comes from a pot allocated to communities that had severe damage from Hurricane Ike in September 2008. Guthrie said the idea is that while such communities were spending time and money on recovery, they fell behind on economic development.

Although the announcement was made Thursday in Owensboro, the EDA actually announced it in Washington back in September.

An announcement for the week of Sept. 18-25 says the Owensboro grant was one of 69 EDA investments of more than $100,000 during the week.

The grants totaled $104.8 billion for projects totaling $170.2 billion.

Henderson received a $921,000 grant from the EDA that week for dredging and widening the North Branch of Canoe Creek.

Malcolm Bryant, who owns the tobacco warehouse and is renovating it for the project, said the building will be unique to Kentucky. He expects it to attract a lot of attention.

The center will include research space for biotech companies as well as office space for a "business accelerator," a place where new businesses can rent as much space as they need until they're ready to move out on their own.

Bryant said he's expecting approximately 20 tenants when the building is full.

Silvert said he expects several of the companies to grow large enough to move out into other office buildings in the community and make space for newer companies.

Keith Lawrence, 691-7301,