Charlottesville has taken the first step toward a $60,000 pledge to support an effort aimed at expanding the local biotechnology sector.
The Economic Development Authority earmarked $25,000 in local funding required for CvilleBioHub to submit a $548,000 grant to the state during its meeting Tuesday.
Authority member Paul Beyer, who founded the Tom Tom Festival, abstained from the vote because of past collaboration between CvilleBioHub and the festival.
The EDA can only allocate funding within the current fiscal year. The remaining $35,000 would be requested in FY2021, which begins July 1, 2020.
CvilleBioHub was founded in 2016 as an online directory of local biotech businesses. The businesses post self-reported employment statistics and data on the size of their facilities, sources of funding and the state of development for technology. In 2018, the organization received an $83,000 grant from GO Virginia, a state-funded initiative focusing on regional collaboration for economic development projects.
The grant funding allowed CvilleBioHub to hire Nikki Hastings as an executive director and produce a report on the status of the area’s biotechnology industry and a strategic plan to support its growth.
Hastings said CvilleBioHub now includes 71 businesses.
“There’s a strong cohort, a strong industry cluster here to start with,” she said.
CvilleBioHub’s plan is to continue assessing activity, create connections, amplify the industry and expand infrastructure.
Hastings said the industry brings in jobs with an average salary of $93,000.
“These are high-paying jobs here,” she said. “That’s the important thing to remember here.”
The collaborative is planning to apply for another GO Virginia grant that would support its plan for a “wet lab” in the city.
“I think it’s a really exciting initiative,” Beyer said.
A wet lab, Hastings said, is a facility in which researchers are working with certain biological and liquid materials.
The funding would be used to create a plan for such a facility that Hastings said could be shopped around to private partners and developers. The wet lab would ideally be a 70,000-square-foot space with several levels to accommodate different types of research, Hastings said.
The grant would be awarded in December and requires that a plan for the facility be completed within six months, or next June.
The funding would also be used to make Hastings a full-time employee. She currently works part time.
Hastings will ask the Albemarle County Economic Development Authority on Sept. 17 for up to $70,000 over two years. The county is asking for more because Charlottesville contributed $10,000 for the grant that was awarded in 2018.
Hastings has said that CvilleBioHub’s long-term goal is to bring more than $500 million worth of biotech investment to the area over the next 10 years.