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February 16, 2010 

Hoping for the best, worried about the worst, investors, developers, engineers, architects and others packed the Seaport Hotel last week to learn how high-tech, biotech, and tech two pills (aka, healthcare) will pull the region out of economic doldrums.
Massachusetts Biotechnology Council’s Robert Coughlin

The fightin' spirit of Massachusetts Biotechnology Council’s Robert Coughlin, a Naval Reserve lieutenant, surfaced during talk of how healthcare reform in DC might affect biotech pharmaceuticals, an engine of economic and real estate growth here. If a new law constricts patent protection for pharma firms that develop new biologics, Bob warned, “We’ll march on Washington.” From our shores to our biotech industry, which now has about $2.5B in factory complexes in development here, Bob’s defending it.

Kling Stubbins’ Scott Simpson with panelists Jones Lang’s Robert Dickey and America’s Growth Capital’s Benjamin Howe

We snapped KlingStubbins’ Scott Simpson with panelists Jones Lang’s Robert Dickey and America’s Growth Capital’s Ben Howe. Encouragingly, Ben says investors he’s met recently “have a mindset of spending money and building companies.” A year or two ago, they were all about cutting. Ben says private investment activity is increasing in a big way and New England is a major global source of private equity. Will some of these tech oriented firms invest in building facilities here? Probably, said Bob. It’s the talent, he noted: “Boston has the highest concentration of PhD’s in the world.” Phew. We’d been worried that number diminished with our arrival.

Tom Glynn of Partners HealthCare

We snapped panelist Tom Glynn of Partners HealthCare chatting after he addressed access to capital. He said his giant network of healthcare providers was able to borrow $500M four weeks ago at a decent rate. “We did OK because we’re conservative; we could have borrowed more.” On the other hand, the recession didn’t bring a huge drop in construction prices, Tom says. While the Boston area will always be high priced, Ben adds, it will continue to attract leading edge firms to buy tech oriented businesses and build new operations.

HallKeen’s Robert Krauss and MIRA Development’s Ed Walsh

As the meeting wound down, HallKeen’s Robert Krauss and MIRA Development’s Ed Walsh discussed the allure of biotech. Robert is looking for opportunities in the industry for his management and investment firm. Ed, an industry vet returning to biotech development after a break, says he’ll favor lab/office space and steer clear of manufacturing. Biopharma factories are extremely complex to build, run, and maintain: “It’s a huge risk, and they cost four times more than labs to develop.”

Hubert Kang courtesy of Cannon Design

If this arena looks familiar, it’s because Olympic speed skaters have been racing through it. Cannon Design’s office in Vancouver created the $158M, 400-meter Richmond Olympic Oval. Boston colleagues like Colleen McKenna will be watching with great interest to see how the facility performs. She and others in CD’s Boston office did similar pre-design work on 13 sports venues for the London Olympic organizing committee in its bid for the 2016 Summer Games. Good luck to the athletes, and good luck to the architects!

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