- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 16, 2002

Springfield is known for its traffic, but the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority is trying to give the home of the Mixing Bowl a new identity.
The agency says work will be completed this summer on an "incubator" in Springfield that will house up to 12 start-up and early stage companies that use computers to further biotechnology research.
The first companies could lease space at the facility as early as June, opening Springfield's door to the technology industry. Technology and telecommunications firms have proliferated along the Dulles Toll Road, but that growth has not spread to other areas of Fairfax County. The economic-development agency cited an estimated 750 technology companies along the toll road but only 50 firms in Springfield last year.
"This all started out as a way to revitalize an area. What we want to have happen in Springfield is to change the nature of the area's economy," said Gerald L. Gordon, chief executive of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority (FCEDA).
At incubators, companies pay rent in return for small spaces, guidance on running their businesses and secretarial help.
The new incubator, called the Bioaccelerator, will occupy the second floor of a two-story building just off Interstate 95 near the Springfield Mall and the Franconia-Springfield Metro Station. The economic-development agency signed a five-year lease on the property in March.
In October, the agency contracted with Angle Technology Group, a British technology-management firm that opened its U.S. headquarters in Herndon two years ago, to find tenants for the incubator.
No companies have yet agreed to lease space in the 7,500-square-foot facility, which is still under construction.
The only other incubator run by the county agency, in Falls Church, opened in 2000 to nurture start-up technology companies. Falls Church venture capital firm Milestone Equity Partners will earn $1.2 million from the FCEDA over three years to operate that facility. Three companies have graduated from the incubator and three have failed, Milestone managing partner Nelson Cooney said.
But the rapid growth at the Falls Church facility isn't expected in Springfield.
The FCEDA will spend $1.5 million during the next three years to support the Springfield incubator. Some of the money will go toward building improvements, but the bulk of it will go to Angle Technology Group to run the facility.
The start-up is the first U.S. incubator that Angle Technology will operate.
It is not clear how many jobs the companies in the incubator will generate, but the biotechnology firms there are expected to grow slowly, said Brian R. Smith, principal executive at Angle Technology.
"This is not a situation where we will hurry up their growth, get them venture capital and move them out. It's a much more deliberate approach [than with other tech companies]," Mr. Smith said.
Mr. Gordon said it could be five years before companies in the program hire enough workers to have an impact on the local economy.
"Biotech has a very long growth curve," he said.
The Springfield incubator's growth also could be slowed by competition for biotech companies from Maryland. That state has worked for years to develop a cluster of medical-technology firms along Interstate 270, and nearly 300 biotech firms are operating in the state, according to MdBio, a nonprofit agency in Frederick, Md., that promotes the commercial development of biotechnology.
Maryland has the nation's third-largest cluster of biotech companies, behind California and Massachusetts, according to a report released in December by accounting firm Ernst & Young LLP.
Another project that could contribute to Springfield's economic base is a medical education campus that Northern Virginia Community College is building near the incubator.
The $25 million, 127,000-square-foot campus should open late next year and will offer medical training and education for up to 5,000 students.
The college purchased the 5.9-acre tract in 1999.
"Springfield has been a pass-through community, but the area seemed to us ready for an explosion of development," said Charlene Connolly, provost of Northern Virginia Community College's medical education campus.


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