Local leaders in D.C. to speak on bid for biodefense facility

WINDER - Regional economic leaders have stepped up their pitch for a national research facility that could fight pandemics such as bird flu, combat bioterrorism and pump millions of dollars into the economy.

Top economic officials are in Washington, D.C., to meet with the state's political delegation on Capitol Hill about the so-called National Bio and Agro-defense Facility. Last week, Gov. Sonny Perdue announced the state was making a bid for the facility.

The Ga. Highway 316 corridor appears to be the most likely spot, though it's unclear if the nearly 30-acre site would be in Gwinnett, Oconee, Barrow or on the University of Georgia campus.

Several other states, including Texas and Maryland, are vying for the 500,000-square-foot research facility, which would fall under the the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The facility would bring 1,000 construction jobs, house 500 federal workers and have at least a $3 billion economic impact on the region, officials say.

"This is a one-of-a-kind facility," Patrick Allen, UGA community relations director, told the Georgia Bioscience Joint Development Authority.

The University of Georgia and the Georgia Department of Economic Development will lead the state's bid. The proposal is due by March 31. The Department of Homeland Security may take up to six months to create its final list of states to house the facility.

The 15-member Joint Development Authority, whose aim is recruiting bioscience jobs to the Ga. 316/Interstate 85 corridor from Athens to Atlanta, unanimously endorsed efforts to land the new defense facility. The state's bid will depend on the corridor's resources, including UGA, Emory University the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

"It would be a real catch for all of northeast Georgia, particularly those of us interested in bioscience," Authority Chairman E.H. Culpepper said.

The prestige of landing the defense facility could lessen the recent sting of losing BellSouth and Scientific-Atlanta as corporate headquarters and the failed attempt to house the NASCAR Hall of Fame.