A relatively young, recently formed, mostly volunteer group with big goals for the Spokane community is taking the first steps toward development of a new facility that would cost up to $50 million and have capacity for up to 500 workers.
And according to the Evergreen Bioscience Innovation Cluster’s advocates, that project would be relatively small, in comparison to what it could lead to in the near future.
“We want to win an innovation hub (appointment) at the federal level,” Evergreen Bioscience board member Andy Johnston says of the group’s ultimate goal. “Federal Innovation hubs can have up to a half-billion dollars in funding.”
A federal request for proposals for innovation hubs likely will be issued in early 2024, he says.
Evergreen Bioscience Innovation Cluster has been awarded a $200,000 Washington state Department of Commerce grant that will serve as the first steps toward the creation of the Evergreen Bioscience Innovation Building, says Johnston, who is also principal of Spokane-based Johnston Engineering PLLC.
Johnston says a 55,000- to 90,000-square-foot facility with a value between $30 million and $50 million could create about 500 jobs in Spokane.
“What we’re trying to do is create an environment where we have researchers, contract research and development, academia, and workforce development come together,” says Johnston.
Johnston says he plans to apply for a matching $200,000 grant in partnership with Spokane-based Health Sciences and Services Authority of Spokane County, which is represented on the Evergreen Bioscience board.
The Evergreen Bioscience Innovation Cluster was formed in 2022 through a $500,000 Innovation Cluster Accelerator grant from the Washington state Department of Commerce. Evergreen Bioscience is led by Greater Spokane Incorporated in partnership with the University District’s business incubator, SP3NW. The organization’s mission is to become a magnet for life science research and manufacturing companies.
Evergreen Bioscience currently is based within Greater Spokane Incorporated’s headquarters at 801 W. Riverside, in downtown Spokane. Upon the formation of Evergreen Bioscience, GSI hired Katrina Rogers as the organization’s CEO. Gary Ballew and Stacia Rasmussen are employees of GSI who dedicate part of their time to Evergreen Bioscience.
Members of the volunteer board include board chair, Mary Waiss; HSSA director Erin Williams Hueter, representing the government sector; Michaele Armstrong, representing the academic sector; Glenn Preswich, representing the entrepreneurial sector; and Jolene Anderson, representing the capital sector. Johnston and Shane Needham are advisory board members at-large.
Stacia Rasmussen, program manager for Evergreen Bioscience, says Commerce has identified nine areas in the state to form innovation clusters, and Spokane is the only bioscience cluster.
An innovation cluster is a formalized, industry-led initiative that includes partners from five economic segments: academia, corporations, capital sources, government, and the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The purpose of a cluster is for those involved to identify gaps within their respective industries and to collaborate to fill those gaps, says Rasmussen.
“If you’re filling those gaps for the different participants, then everybody’s business does better,” she says.
Johnston adds that Spokane and Kootenai counties have above-average job growth within the bioscience industry, citing a 13% job growth between 2017 and 2022, which is about 281 jobs created during that time frame.
“We would more than double that with the Evergreen Bioscience Innovation Building,” he says.
Johnston says Evergreen Bioscience will use the Commerce grant to conduct a building-requirements study and will select an architecture firm to create a preliminary design for the Evergreen Bioscience Innovation Building.
The funds must be used by June 30. Johnston says proposals will be evaluated by a volunteer team of community partners that includes real estate professionals, lab researchers, and engineers. An architecture firm likely will be selected within the next two weeks, he says.
A site location for the building hasn’t been identified yet. Johnston says he and other team members are evaluating both existing buildings and empty lots within the University District, in Spokane Valley, and on the West Plains.
When a location is identified, the selected architecture firm will meet with members of the bioscience community and Evergreen Bioscience Innovation Cluster to determine the needs of the facility, such as how much manufacturing space and lab space will be needed, with the ultimate goal of attracting companies as tenants, he says.
“It’s important that we create something that is useful,” says Johnston. “If we don’t create something that is in demand for the community, then we’ve wasted the money.”
Data being collected through the Inland Northwest Life Science Growth Project will likely be used in determining the needs of the community, Johnston says.
Rasmussen says the Inland Northwest Life Science Growth Project study is due to be completed by June 1. It is being performed by a project team from Chicago-based real estate services company Cushman & Wakefield that will assess Spokane County and provide recommendations for growing and attracting life sciences companies.
“The whole community is going to benefit from the study, but it’s convenient that it happened around the same time as we’re (designing) the Evergreen Bioscience Innovation Building,” says Rasmussen.
The $150,000 study is funded by Evergreen Bioscience and other stakeholders that include Spokane County, HSSA, the University District, and S3R3.
Evergreen Bioscience currently has about 75 members and is growing its membership. Rasmussen says the organization has received interest from hundreds of people from across the country as well.
Johnston says that, although getting a federal innovation hub appointment is the ultimate goal, Evergreen Bioscience, will assess the viability of attaining that distinction.
“All this stuff is like Expo ’74.” says Johnston. “It started with this focus group that really believed in it and pushed and pushed. We’ve got a core group of people who are excited about this, and we’re going to keep pushing.”
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