Business & Economy

LA County Supervisors approve early steps toward Biotech Park at Harbor UCLA

Harbor UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, CA
Harbor UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, CA
Tony Hoffarth/ Flickr
Harbor UCLA Medical Center in Torrance, CA
USC Keck Medical Center
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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors have approved a 250,000-square-foot Bioscience Tech Park to be built at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance.

The project, which the Supervisors approved in a Tuesday vote, must clear future funding hurdles before it breaks ground, but their support is a key first step. Supervisors want to grow the biotech industry in Southern California and retain more of the county's science, medical and technology graduates.

"L.A. has been behind on this, but we are getting ready to blast off, and this particular initiative is the first installment,"said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who introduced the motion.  "What we hope to do is to make sure that we can create high-paying jobs right here in our community — be competitive with San Diego, be competitive with San Francisco."

For a few years now, business, academic and government leaders in Los Angeles County have been strategizing on how to grow the biotech industry. 

In 2012, the Supervisors commissioned a study of the local industry and a master plan for developing it.  The report, from the Battelle Memorial Institute, said the sector was a consistent job generator. From 2001 to 2010, the sector added more than 4,500 jobs — 11.8 percent growth that didn't stop even during the recession. But the report also noted that biotech is a small player in the county's economy, representing just over 1 percent of private-sector employment. 

The report also said Los Angeles has the people power for the biotech industry, but few places to put it. The county's colleges and universities turned out 5,000 graduates with bioscience-related degrees in 2010, but there weren't enough good jobs to keep them here.  

Harbor UCLA is already home to LA BioMed,  a research nonprofit.

Ridley-Thomas says the new park would begin as an incubator for biotech start-ups. In approving his motion, the Supervisors directed the county Department of Public Works to include the bioscience facility in an environmental impact report.

Ridley-Thomas said he expected development of the project would cost between $110 million and $125 million, and it would be funded by a public-private partnership. He estimated the facility will create 800 to 900 permanent jobs. 

A key component of the county's master plan for biotech is to capitalize on its cluster of universities and medical centers. USC also wants to build a biotech park at its Health Sciences campus in Boyle Heights, and it hosted a biotech summit there in February.

"It's going to be the fastest growing sector of the global economy of the next 20 to 30 years," said USC President C. L. Max Nikias at the summit. "We had close to 50 business start-ups in biotech as a result of the research and innovation of our faculty and students, but none of them stayed in the L.A. basin, because we don’t have the biotech parks and the ecosystems for them to stay here."