FAIRFIELD — Clyde Dyar dreams of a biotech industry park in Fairfield. He envisions huge profitable Canadian biotech companies setting up their research and development labs right next to Interstate 95 in the back yard of the local technical college. He imagines agricultural, pharmaceutical, marine and diagnostic technologies fostered there. It will be called BIO-Maine.
“Such a park,” he assures, “could provide hundreds of well-paying jobs and a magnificent boost to the local economy. We will be getting in on a power curve.”
A year after Dyar, who is Fairfield’s economic director, formed an ad hoc committee of dreamers and doers, the park appears to be on the verge of creation.
After Dyar and Dwight Laning, a Benton selectman and a park supporter, took four trips to Quebec and North Carolina and other places where the biotech industry is flourishing, Dyar says Fairfield is about ready to vote whether to commit to purchasing the land for the park.
He hopes to use some creative funding tactics, including donations, grants and a lease-purchase system for tenants. He would offer the full electrical contract for the park to the firm that agrees to bring the power to the site for free. He has volunteers surveying the land and would have the Army National Guard clear the site as a summer project.
By having the project town-owned, leases could be low — well below current market rental costs. “This is the carrot that will lure the businesses,” said Dyar. “We are amazed at how much interest is already being shown by out-of-state and country companies. We were received very well in Canada, and they have a large interest in working with us.”
Dyar said he is negotiating with two firms that have expressed a desire to locate in Fairfield.
Will siting a biotech park in Fairfield really add all the value to the area that Dyar says it will?
In terms of significance to the Maine economy, the revenues for biotech industries in the state last year surpassed those of the potato industry.
According to Nancy McDonald of the Biotechnology Association of Maine, gross biotech revenues in 1997 were more than $400 million. Sales grew more than 20 percent over 1996 sales.
McDonald said biotech companies in Maine range from one- and two-person fledgling businesses to IDEX in Westbrook, the world’s eighth-largest biotech company.
“Not counting nonprofit research and development labs, we employ 4,000 people and these are very high-paying jobs,” said McDonald. “Lab workers begin at $35,000 to $40,000 a year.”
The abundance of newly trained, highly skilled workers is one of the local assets Dyar hopes will entice new businesses. Kennebec Valley Technical College, located just steps away from the future home of the park, is one of the first schools in the state to offer a biotech training program.
“The tie-in with KV Tech is the link that will allow this concept to flourish,” Dyar said.
McDonald agreed. “This is a very interesting and vital support for the biotech concept.”
She also said that several of Maine’s already thriving biotech industries are located in central Maine. “We have a number of these companies right in Fairfield’s back yard — Avian Farms, Northeast Labs — that need to be serviced.”
Douglas Johnson of GreenTree Communications in Stonington has provided public relations services to biotechnology industries for 20 years. “This IS the way these businesses get started,” Johnson said recently. “Maine needs to have the space, the location to attract these entrepreneurs. The Fairfield concept should really attract new businesses to Maine.”
Johnson said that even Gov. Angus King noticed the growth of biotech firms and made biotechnology one of Maine’s targets for growth when he unveiled his economic development strategy a year ago.
“When fully opened, our park is expected to result in at least 40 to 64 high-quality biotechnology jobs as well as several supportive service and administrative positions. Using conservative numbers, this would add $800,000 to $1.2 million in annual payroll to the local economy. This is very exciting,” said Dyar.
He said that Fairfield now”has an agreement on principle on the land. But obviously, we don’t have any money.” Dyar and Laning are spending a considerable amount of time researching and applying for grants and seeking creative funding ideas.
Dyar said BIO-Maine will need $30,750 in 1998, which he hopes to collect in membership fees. Dyar will approach area businesses and business consultants for memberships ranging from $100 to $250. Interested individuals can become members at the $25 level. The Fairfield Development Corp. is also seeking another $10,000 in grant funding for this year.