Montgomery County’s biotechnology businesses are concerned about the effect of a county plan to move companies out of a Gaithersburg center for beginning businesses.
The county plans to renovate the William Hanna Center for Innovation at Shady Grove to make it the home for the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, forcing biotech and other companies at the facility to find new space.
The biotech industry is a community, whose members rely on each other for information and customer referrals, said Dietmar Wolf, executive vice president of AnalytiCon Discovery, which is at the Hanna Center.
Wolf spoke Thursday at a gathering of biotech companies for a meeting with Douglas M. Duncan, a Democratic candidate for Montgomery County executive.
Duncan, a former county executive, is running against incumbent Isiah Leggett and Councilman Philip M. Andrews (D-Dist. 3) of Gaithersburg.
Duncan criticized the decision to move the cybersecurity center into the Gaithersburg facility and relocate many biotech companies to the Germantown area.
“This is a very significant issue for the future of this county,” Duncan said.
He said he plans to send a letter to the County Council asking it to reconsider the issue.
Surely, there’s another location in the county for the cybersecurity facility, he said.
“Why does it have to be at this facility? Why can’t the county do both?” Duncan asked.
Montgomery started nurturing the biotechnology and life sciences industry in the early 1980s, he said.
Duncan said if the county follows through with the plan, it would send a message to the world that Montgomery is losing interest in life sciences.
The county believes it can remain one of the nation’s top life sciences region while also establishing itself as a center of the cybersecurity industry, said Kristina Ellis, a spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Economic Development.
“We’re just unique in thinking we can be a leader in both,” she said.
Life sciences in the county seems to be moving toward the Germantown region anyway, she said.
Meanwhile, the Hanna Center’s proximity to the National Institute of Standards and Technology makes it a good spot for the cybersecurity facility, she said.
Ellis said the county would work with the companies now at the Hanna Center to help as many as possible to move to Germantown.
David Beylin, CEO of Brain Biosciences Inc., said his company moved into the Gaithersburg incubator in May and he appreciates the business “ecosystem” in the facility.
The county’s plan to move the biotech companies out “is not a friendly message” that these types of companies are welcome in Montgomery, he said.
Beylin said he’s not opposed to a cybersecurity center, but thinks the county should find another place for it.
Jonathan Cohen, president and CEO of 20/20 GeneSystems, said business incubators around the country and the world are trying to attract biotech companies.
“We should be growing the Shady Grove innovation center, not destroying it,” Cohen said.