Georgia makes strides in research, but is missing bioscience ‘focal point’
By Maria Saporta
In the 24 years since the founding of the Georgia Research Alliance, federally-funded research and development grants to Georgia’s universities has increased five-fold.
The state’s total share of federal research funding increased to nearly 3 percent, ranking 12th and one of only five of the top 16 states that is increasing its market share.
These are the findings in new report prepared by consultants for the Georgia Research Alliance that was presented to the board at its recent meeting.
The report, prepared by McKinsey & Co. and Battelle Labs, said the Georgia Research Alliance drives an annual impact of $825 million on Georgia’s economy.
The alliance gets about $30 million direct investment from the state to recruit talent, equip laboratories, seed promising start-up companies and support research that promotes economic growth.
That spending has been leveraged to $395 million in direct spending by industry, universities, foundations and the federal government. That contributes to another $400 million in indirect spending, according to the report.
In all, the economic impact of the Alliance has helped create or support 6,400 jobs every year – yielding $319 million in annual earnings.
The consultants did an assessment of the scope of work of the Alliance.
It’s oldest initiative – attracting eminent scholars who will do cutting-edge research will help attract federal funding and business opportunities.
“The coming years will bring turnover in eminent scholars due to age and changes in the field,” the report stated. “Static or declining federal funding for research will require new thinking and approaches for recruiting eminent scholars.”
The consultants did give the Alliance kudos for its recent efforts to fund early commercialization efforts and to provide venture funding to help bring the more promising ideas to the private market.
Going forward, the report said that the Alliance should “continue to grow (the) impact of GRA Venture Fund LLC through leverage and syndication with industry-specialized venture capital,” it stated, adding that the long-term sustainability of the GRA Venture Fund could occur “through successful exits from investments.”
The consultants’ report did closely examine the “bioscience industry” – saying it “GRA and Georgia’s research universities have invested heavily in building bioscience research, commercialization capacity.”
But the report also said something was missing in Georgia – “a physical focal point to coordinate and connect bioscience research and commercial activity.”
Georgia has been talking about having a physical location where research could occur for decades – even before the establishment of the Georgia Research Alliance.
Part of the motivation has been the fact that Georgia has been in the shadow of the geographically-defined Research Triangle in North Carolina. Even though the research occurring in Georgia is competitive with the work underway in North Carolina, it does not have the same national recognition.
So the report had the following recommendations:
Create a physical destination for further bioscience development that will:
– Address a long-term real estate need to cluster early and growth-state companies;
– Serve as a “landing pad: for company recruitment;
– Bring a more coherent economic development approach for bioscience; and
– Promote sharing of unique state-of-the-art equipment, facilities.
The idea for a bio-science research park has resurfaced several times over the years. Most recently, the McPherson Implementing Local Redevelopment Authority had proposed to turn over part of the recently-vacated fort in a research park that could have been a state collaboration among the various research universities and other related entities, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
During the meeting, Alliance President Mike Cassidy said that MILRA has now moved in a different direction. If the GRA board was interested in exploring a real estate proposition, Cassidy said it had the expertise on its board to develop some options for the future.
The Georgia Research Alliance meets three times a year, and its next meeting will be in January.