Group markets greater Portland lifestyle at biotech conference

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PORTLAND — The Portland Technology Park may exist only on paper, but that isn’t stopping the city’s economic development director from marketing it to a global audience.

Last week, Economic Development Director Greg Mitchell was among officials from the Greater Portland Economic Development Corp. who went to Washington, D.C., for the 2011 BIO International Convention.

Mitchell, along with officials from South Portland, Scarborough and Westbrook, attended the four-day conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, which included 1,700 exhibits and drew an estimated 20,000 attendees. 

Their message: greater Portland is a great place to live and work.

“We were marketing the greater Portland region’s lifestyle,” Mitchell said Friday.

According to the GPEDC website, more than 500,000 people live in the area the group defines as greater Portland. More than 91 percent have a high school diploma, 33.4 percent have a college degree and 11.6 percent have a graduate or professional degree. 

The trip to Washington, D.C., which came with a shared cost of $10,000, was designed to attract people in the bio-technology field.

Mitchell said there are about 50 bio-science companies in greater Portland, employing 1,500 to 2,000 people.

He said the GPEDC is a partnership between not only municipalities, but also local business chambers and universities.

Mitchell estimated the group handed out 700 “calling cards” to about 500 people. Those calling cards were were candy-filled test tubes with the inscription, “Compliments of Greater Portland Maine.”

Although the group was teaming up as part of a broad marketing effort, Mitchell said each community will also have the opportunity to compete for the businesses interested in the region.

For Portland, those efforts are focused on the technology park planned off Rand Road, near Exit 47 on Interstate 95.

Plans for Portland Technology Park are expected to go to a Planning Board public hearing in the next month or two.

The park, which would accommodate seven buildings of at least 10,000 square feet each, is proposed for nearly 40 acres of city-owned land at 300 Rand Road.

The city is planning a road and associated utilities to lure bio-tech companies to the area. It would be up to each business to build its own facility.

The land is forested wetland, but engineers and architects are drafting low-impact development guidelines.

The project is expected to affect 38,000-square feet of wetlands, so the city will be assessed an impact fee by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps. of Engineers.

During a Planning Board workshop last week, Nelle Hanig, the city’s business development representative, said the city can now offer high-tech companies only industrial office space.

But she said companies specializing in research and development are interested in being within a more professional, campus-like environment, since they are quieter, present a better business image and allows companies to network and share ideas. 

“The Portland Technology Park will allow the city to compete for these types of companies,” she said.

Hanig said the city has already received inquiries from two companies interested in the campus.

Mitchell said the GPEDC made contact with about 40 businesses at the conference. Of those, six companies asked for more information about opportunities to locate in greater Portland.

Mitchell said one of companies was Bar Harbor-based Jackson Laboratory, two were European companies looking for a U.S. presence, plus one California-based patent attorney, a pharmaceutical company and a start-up. 

Mitchell said people were mostly familiar with Maine, either because they had visited or had family here.

But others likely heard of the state and region through the seemingly endless stream of accolades from national publications, many of which are located on the GPEDC’s new website, GreaterPortland.org.

“That allowed for us to really play off the Maine allure,” he said.

Mitchell said that city’s $1.5 million investment into the roads and utilities for the Portland Technology Park will better position the city to get tangible results from that allure.

“If you don’t have sites and facilities ready to go when a business wants to invest you can’t compete,” he said. “You have to be ahead of the curve. If not, you’re not even in the competition.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings.

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