By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Area leaders on Monday broke ground on a new $84 million biotech facility at Southern Research’s campus in Birmingham that is expected to create 150 new jobs and double the institution’s annual economic impact to $300 million a year.
The flagship biotech center will anchor the development of 200,000 square feet of new or renovated wet lab space for life sciences. The new facility, located on the corner of Richard Arrington Jr., Blvd., and Ninth Avenue South, will double the organization’s lab space for researching infectious diseases and greatly expand its work to develop new treatments for cancer and other serious illnesses.
“This project represents a major investment in the city of Birmingham and in the great work being done by our Southern Research team,” said Josh Carpenter, Ph.D., president and CEO of Southern Research. “It builds on our strengths and puts us in a position for dynamic growth in the future.”
Southern Research has nearly 700 patents and more than 20 FDA approved drugs that “will directly benefit” everyone at the groundbreaking, their families and around the globe “from something developed here . . . whether that’s COVID, or cancer,” Carpenter said.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin called it “a transformational moment for Southern Research and for Birmingham.” He added, “as someone who benefited from a COVID-19 treatment developed with Southern Research’s experts, I am especially grateful to the scientists who work here and I’m proud to help them take their work to the next level.”
Woodfin said the “vision” for the project “goes far beyond a new building” citing the additional workers, as well as more than 1,000 construction jobs and $26 million in new payroll that will result from the new facility.
“I believe that it’s about creating a better future for all of us, and that’s what excites me the most,” he said. “As we get ready to actually put on these hard hits hats and put the shovels in the ground, this is not just a building…It’s the growth that our city needs, the growth that will continue to push us forward.”
Carpenter, Woodfin, Governor Kay Ivey, Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens; Ray Watts, MD, president of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and chair of the Southern Research board of directors were among the dignitaries in attendance.
Stephens said the new facility is the product of teamwork among government and business leaders at all levels. “This new center is as much about fostering a successful business climate, as it is the employment of the people here at Southern Research,” he said. “These big projects don’t just happen. They happen when we are intentional about what we intend to do. We can’t accomplish anything on our own.”
Watts praised the work of scientists at Southern Research and said UAB is helping to create an incubator for new biotech businesses. He also pointed to other recent and upcoming developments, like UAB’s new genomic medicine and biomedical innovation buildings and the Southtown Court redevelopment, that he said will help the area become a biotech haven.
“We share this vision of a bigger biotech future for our city, county and state, and I think we will clearly see great progress coming,” Watts said.
Ivey said the $5 million the state invested in Southern Research’s new facility will no doubt “pay dividends for Alabamians.”
“The scientists here at Southern Research and their neighbors at UAB are soon going to give us good proof that Birmingham should be called the ‘Magic City’ for more than one reason,” Ivey said.
As Economic Development Committee Chair of the Jefferson County Commission, Steve Ammons called the Southern Research project yet another example of local leaders working across partisan and jurisdictional lines to benefit the entire Birmingham metro area.
“When we work together, we can do big things,” Ammons said. “This expansion at Southern Research is an important project that will create economic ripples across this county and state.”