The Atlanta metropolitan region ranks third nationally for the number of Fortune 500 companies headquartered there. Additionally, several medical organizations, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Cancer Society, and the Arthritis Foundation are based in Atlanta.
Atlanta's advantages are now attracting bioscience companies. These include a world-class airport, 45 colleges and universities, and low business and living costs. Commercial real estate space rents for about half the cost of Boston and San Francisco. Additionally, Atlanta ranks seventh in the country for training people with bioscience degrees, according to the Atlanta Regional Commission on Higher Education.
With 200 companies employing 13,000 workers, Georgia's life sciences industry climbed to eighth place, according to a recent Ernst & Young report.
About three-quarters of the companies are located in Atlanta, Athens, or Augusta. Many are spin-offs of local universities, including Emory University, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of Georgia, Georgia State, Medical College of Georgia, and Morehouse Medical School.
Since 1990, the Georgia Research Alliance (www.gra.org) has worked with university researchers to find innovations with commercial potential. Under the VentureLab program funded by the Georgia Research Alliance, university incubators nurture novice companies.
At the Georgia Institute of Technology, VentureLab companies can move into wet laboratories in the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC). "VentureLab bridges the gap between university inventions and forming a company," says Lee Herron, ATDC's general manager of bioscience.
The Georgia Biomedical Partnership (www.gabio.org), the state affiliate of BIO, hosts annual Life Science Summits to promote biotechnology. About 450 people attended the first summit in 2001, and about twice as many attended the 2004 meeting.
In 2009, Atlanta is scheduled to host BIO's Global Biotech Convention, and 25,000 people are expected. "It's the Olympics of the biotech industry," says Jack Spencer, former president of the Georgia Biomedical Partnership.
Overall, the Atlanta bioscience industry lags 10 to 15 years behind historical hotspots, like San Francisco, Boston, and San Diego. Although there are plenty of university incubators, facilities for growing companies are lacking, and there are no large biotechnology parks. "As companies grow, "they spread out on their own," says Russell Allen, vp of biosciences for the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.
However, plans are under way to create a biotechnology park along Route 316, which connects Atlanta with Athens. If all goes well, Route 316 could become the "future biotech corridor," says Allen.