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Longmont alive, well in biotech

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — Biotechnology is hot. Sales of biotech products are at $20 billion a year, and experts say they will hit $30 billion by 2005.

Economic developers from just about every state say they want to attract and grow more biotech companies. After all, it’s a “clean” industry, the jobs typically pay very well and the aging of the baby boom population means the industry is only going to grow.

And Colorado — particularly Longmont — has a leg up on the competition.

“I think Longmont has proven itself,” said Paul Ray, who was recently appointed Colorado’s director of life sciences and biotechnology.

Amgen and Array BioPharma are two of the biotech companies that already find Longmont a solid place to do business. These companies should — some hope will — act as a magnet to other biotech companies, to either be formed here or move here.

“Biotech’s one of those industries that goes as a cluster. You rarely see a biotech company hanging out there by itself,” Ray said. “And it tends to congregate around universities that have life sciences as part of their environment.”

Universities such as the University of Colorado-Aurora is already benefiting from the Colorado Bioscience Park — formerly Fitzsimons Army Medical Center — the largest medical-related redevelopment project in the nation. And while Fitzsimons may be “the crown jewel,” Longmont also could reap the benefits of having such a world-class facility nearby.

“It’s a very collaborative industry,” said Denise Brown, executive director of the Colorado Biotechnology Association. “It thrives on being geographically clustered together. It’s the kind of industry (that) the more it collaborates and communicates, the better it’s going to do.”

Ray and Brown were two of the attendees on hand at last Thursday’s “Lifesciences Thursday” at the Raintree. Sponsored by the Longmont Area Economic Council, Pratt and the law firm Cooley Godward, the event was the first in a series that will be held every other month. A combination conference and mixer, it’s all about raising Longmont’s profile in the biotechnology community. Thursday’s event drew people from the industry, from academia and from other economic development associations, as well as a heavyweight keynote speaker: John Hansen, Colorado’s chief technology officer and the newly appointed secretary of technology for the state, a role he will assume this summer.

“This is a great time to be a part of the life sciences community in Colorado,” an enthusiastic Hansen told the crowd of about 100 people.

He said results of an industry study to be released this week will provide clear direction for how the state can advance the biotech industry. Amgen’s Dave Bengston, vice president of Colorado operations, was one of the participants in that study.

Bengston agreed that Longmont is but one of many communities in the state seeking to woo biotech companies, but he said he felt that a unified, statewide effort would help everyone.

“The purpose of the state plan is to coalesce all of these good efforts, and that’s something I haven’t seen go on yet,” Bengston said. As for his back yard, “It’s the type of industry Longmont wants. It’s a clean industry, it brings in primary jobs and it provides a lot of downstream economic benefits.”

Hansen wouldn’t reveal much about the study — or the state’s action plan that would accompany its release — but he did tease the crowd by calling Fitzsimons “a regional hub for the entire Rocky Mountain West.”

“I just have this vision that we are at the beginning of enormous growth in this industry in Colorado,” Hansen said.

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.