Gavilan helps with bio-tech

A joint effort between the Gilroy economic development group and
Gavilan College to bring biotech production companies to

garlic town

has gone international.
GILROY – A joint effort between the Gilroy economic development group and Gavilan College to bring biotech production companies – and resulting jobs, educational opportunities and tax revenue – to “garlic town” has gone international.

Gavilan Interim President Martin Johnson returned Monday from a trip to Toronto to meet with a company that he said “has nearly signed a letter of commitment to move to Gilroy.”

Joining Johnson in Toronto were Bill Lindsteadt, executive director of the Gilroy Economic Development Corporation, and Rich Gillis, director of the Gavilan College Small Business Development Center.

“I think it will have major economic and social impacts if they do choose to be here, because the products they have developed are pretty spectacular,” Johnson said of the Toronto-based company at a Gavilan School Board session earlier this month.

Gilroy’s chances of being a biotech production hub increased earlier this month when the Gavilan Small Business Development Center garnered a nearly $900,000, five-year grant from California. The grant requires Gavilan to act as the headquarters for applied biotechnology in a region that spans from Monterey to the Nevada border.

“The primary aspect of this grant is the word ‘applied,’ ” said Gillis, the SBDC director. “We’re required to assist in the continued development of an educational collaborative between biotech businesses and schools.”

If biotech businesses land in Gilroy, for instance, special courses, internships and work opportunities could be set up for community college and high school students.

“It’s a very concerted effort and it’s moving very, very quickly,” Johnson told Gavilan trustees.

Johnson declined to name the Toronto company and will not say what the “spectacular” product is. Johnson said the face-to-face visit did not yield a commitment from the company.

At least three biotech companies have visited Gilroy in recent months to consider relocating existing facilities or starting new companies here, Lindsteadt said. One of the companies is based in Chicago and has production facilities somewhere in California.

Lindsteadt would provide no other details regarding that company, but said that a trip to Chicago could happen in the future.

Firms with research and development labs in the Bay Area have also shown interest in starting production facilities in Gilroy, Lindsteadt said.

“I’m smart enough to know we’re not going to see a brain drain headed south,” said Lindsteadt. “We’re trying to get the production jobs.

“Gilroy is ripe for a new industry. Land prices are about 30 percent cheaper here. Quality of life for employees is good here. And there’s plenty of developable land that’s already zoned industrial,” Lindsteadt said.

If the city and Gavilan can land them, biotech production companies would take up space at the Southpoint Business Park east of Highway 101 near the outlet malls, Lindsteadt said.

Southpoint has 13 acres that are “pad ready,” Lindsteadt said. Another 58 acres still needs to be graded, but are developable.

Building out the development with biotech production could potentially rival the outlets and local car dealerships as the City of Gilroy’s premier tax revenue base.

“There could be a big cluster of biotech here,” Lindsteadt said.

Biotechnology, or transgenics, is a high-tech science that improves organisms by transferring or manipulating genetic information. It has wide-ranging applications from making crops grow healthier to making pharmaceuticals work better.

Johnson and the others describe their cooperative venture as still in the marketing phase. They have not entered a negotiating phase with any of the interested businesses, they said. Nonetheless, Lindsteadt acknowledged that the only time he goes out of town is when he has “a quality client” and thinks there is “better than a 60 percent chance of getting them here.”

The effort is not the first to draw high-tech companies to Gilroy. “Garlic town” put itself on the high-tech map this summer when Entegris Inc. held ribbon-cutting ceremonies here.

Mayor Tom Springer praised the move then as the first tech company of significant size and stature to come to the city.

Entegris specializes in “materials integrity management,” a system of products and services used to protect and transport high-tech components that require ultra-pure environments.

While Springer is confident that Gilroy can serve as an effective biotech production hub, he said the economic slowdown may keep companies from expanding soon.

“There are companies with five- and 10-year plans that have been looking at Gilroy,” Springer said.

Springer would not elaborate on those companies. He said disclosing company names could jeopardize potential deals.

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