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City will now see if BioBusiness Center will attract tenants

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By Jeff Kiger

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

They built it.

Now will they –- tenants to fill the Minnesota BioBusiness Center –- come?

That’s the $34 million question as the first employees move into the recently completed downtown Rochester center in the 200 block of First Avenue Southwest.

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About 5-1/2 floors are already spoken for with Mayo Clinic paying for five of them and a Mayo-related software company, Kardia Health Systems, slated for the partial space on the third floor.

"Overall, given the economic climate we are in, to have the building with as much space as we have leased and to have people seriously interested in chunks of the remainder ... I guess I’m pretty happy," said Doug Knott, Rochester Development Administrator, who is in charge of the construction and leasing of the project for the city.

During a recession, can the city expect biotechnology companies to lease space in Rochester?

Maybe.

Industry experts expect biobusiness companies to grow by more than 10 percent this year. Nationally, the biotechnology industry added 27,000 new jobs in February. Overall, the nation lost 101,000 jobs that same month,

Growth opportunities

The newest addition to Rochester’s skyline offers a lot of opportunity for new or growing companies, particularly ones with links to Mayo Clinic, said Steve Van Nurden, chairman of Mayo Clinic’s Office of Intellectual Property, as he recently toured his future office on the fourth floor.

His office commercializes about 400 drugs, medical devices, diagnostic machines and related software systems each year created by Mayo Clinic physicians and researchers. Startup companies, collaboration deals and licensing agreements then make sure Mayo feels the financial benefits from its creations.

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Right now his team of 28 has a portfolio of about 1,800 projects in various stages of development. It also has 550 ongoing agreements with companies.

"Now we not only have room to grow in the new building, but now have the ability to position these companies here in Rochester," he said. "I’d rather go one floor down than jump on an airplane. We now have another option we did not have before."

Basing Mayo Clinic related bio businesses in the building is win-win situation for the city and the medical firm, as Van Nurden describes it.

"Early-stage companies often get stuck on a problem. Then it would be really nice to say, ‘The inventor is here and connected by skyway,’" he said, as an example.

Elk Run

As the city of Rochester and Mayo Clinic eye biotechnology firms, the people planning the Elk Run biobusiness campus by nearby Pine Island are presumably scoping out similar start-ups.

Will that potential competition hurt the Rochester project?

In his opinion, Knott does not see Elk Run as a threat to the BioBusiness Center.

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"These businesses tend to feed on themselves. They tend to grow by proximity. I don’t see any particular negative coming out of that," he said.

Kardia Health Systems, which be located on the third floor below Van Nurden’s Intellectual Properties team, is one such company that has already based itself on Mayo Clinic technology and is already finding some success.

Kardia will move its staff of seven into the building the first week in May. Since Kardia’s office is already in Rochester, how does being in the BioBusiness Center help this medical imaging and electronic records business?

"We have a very strong relationship with Mayo. Sharing a building with Mayo gets people’s attention when we talk to potential customers," said George Danko, Kardia’s president and CEO.

Danko hopes to grow his company within a few months in the new location from seven staff members up to 20.

"Month after month, quarter after quarter, we continue to ramp up revenue. It is not nearly where we want it to be, but the trend is up," he said. "The wind is sort of at our back."

And with the doors open, the city of Rochester hopes to catch a breeze to carry the new BioBusiness Center forward.

"This is a plus to the community that will only get better," Knott said.

For more information, go to Postbulletin.com/weblinks.

Biobusiness Center http://www.rochesterbiobusinessandmedicaltechnologycenter.com/

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