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In Montgomery County, plans for bioscience development nears approval

By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 3, 2010; 6:38 PM

Plans for a "science city" in Montgomery County are expected to win approval Tuesday from the County Council, a move that officials hope will lead to the creation of a $10 billion, 17.5 million-square-foot center for research and development.

Officials from Johns Hopkins University, which is among the key players in the development, and business and political leaders are backing the plan, which they say could create a scientific research center that would rival North Carolina's Research Triangle or Palo Alto, Calif. County officials predict that the number of jobs in the area west of Interstate 270 could triple to at least 60,000, many of them high-paying. The development also would include retail and housing.

The project is near several residential neighborhoods but is in an area that is also home to several bioscience companies and Shady Grove Adventist Hospital. The National Institutes of Health recently unveiled plans to build offices nearby for the National Cancer Institute.

Some residents remain skeptical, saying they worry about the scale of the project and its potential to cause large traffic jams. A transit way, either rapid bus or light rail, is planned for the area, and much of the development would be spaced out over two decades and coincide with transportation improvements.

Meanwhile, County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) is traveling to Chicago on Tuesday to encourage leaders of the bioscience industry to consider locating in Montgomery.

The county is already home to almost 300 biotech companies, including MedImmune, Human Genome Sciences, United Therapeutics, QIAGEN, Novavax and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Joining Leggett will be H. Thomas Watkins, president and chief executive of Human Genome Sciences; Peter Greenleaf, president of MedImmune; Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development Secretary Christian S. Johansson; members of the county's Biosciences Task Force; other local bioscience industry executives; and state and local economic development officials.

County Council member Michael Knapp (D-Upcounty), who chairs the committee that put together the plans for the science city, said Monday that Montgomery has much to offer the biosciences industry, including tax credits, proximity to Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland, campuses of major federal agencies -- including the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration -- and an educated workforce.

"Who out there in the rest of the world is in a position to be as competitive as we are?" he said.

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