Ga. Highway 316 bioscience plan becoming more specific

LAWRENCEVILLE - It's not enough to say bioscience technology would be a perfect fit for the Ga. Highway 316 corridor. That thinking is too broad, the economic development director of Gwinnett's Chamber of Commerce said.

Scott Morris, the director, said biotechnology comes in many forms, and saying that area counties want to bring it to the area is like saying they want manufacturing.

"It's an extremely, extremely broad area," he said. "It's kind of like saying, 'We want business, we want jobs.' There are corporate headquarters, incubators. You have to have an active program to market and promote it."

Morris said Gwinnett is in the beginning stages of winnowing down the laundry list of biotechnology options. There are already several small startups in the area, he said, and the county is looking closely at ophthalmology and medical devices as two possible focuses.

But Morris said the bid to bring biotechnology to the Ga. 316 corridor is bigger than just Gwinnett. E.H. Culpepper, the current treasurer and past chairman of a four-county Bioscience Joint Development Authority, said the entire state is interested in becoming a research hub.

"Georgia's in the hunt," he said. "If communities come together on a regional basis, collaborate on a regional basis, combine their different assets and connectivity with research universities, we're really on the cutting edge."

Culpepper said the draw toward biotechnology stems, in part, from the aging of the baby boom generation. The technology deals with human health and focuses on the humanistic side of research, he said, and will be the next big work force boom.

Local colleges are trying to train their worker for biotechnology jobs, and Culpepper said the ability to create so-called livable communities on Ga. 316 gives them another advantage.

Doug Garrison, chairman of the Barrow County Board of Commissioners and a member of the Joint Development Authority, said he doesn't expect the entire corridor to be filled with biotechnology companies. They are not the county's main focus, he said, but would be a nice addition to the corridor's development.

Morris said there will be a great deal of competition to snag companies but that the end result will be worth it.

"It definitely needs to be a regional initiative, it's definitely more than one county," Morris said. "We're talking about our entire future. It's not tomorrow, it's not the next day. We're taking a systematic approach."

For Culpepper, it seems like years of work are finally starting to come together. From statewide focus on biotechnologies and collaboration to talk of commuter rail that would make the corridor more accessible, the elements are finally there, he said.

"The stars are aligning," Culpepper said. "The timing's good."