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Tech center likely to boost job growth

Wed., March 30, 2005, midnight

Spokane city and state officials said a new technology center on the edge of downtown will play a big part in helping biotechnology firms create more jobs.

Those officials made that prediction during Tuesday’s groundbreaking of the $6-million technology center to be run by SIRTI – the Spokane Intercollegiate Research and Technology Institute.

Half of the cost of the project is provided by a grant from the federal Economic Development Administration. SIRTI, a state agency focused on helping area technology businesses grow, has also taken out a $2.7 million loan from Washington Trust Bank. The organization paid $850,000 to Washington State University for the land at the corner of Pine and East Riverside.

Once finished in November, the SIRTI Technology Center will have 12,000 square feet of modern lab space, considered a key resource for biotechnology companies looking to develop new products.

The rest of the 39,200-square-foot building will be offices and manufacturing space.

Since the federal grant was awarded in spring 2004, SIRTI officials have discussed leasing options with nearly a dozen possible tenants, said Scott Simmons, SIRTI director of finance and operations.

So far, no companies or research groups have signed leases. Simmons said he expects efforts to land tenants will improve following the recent hiring of Kiemle & Hagood Co. as leasing agent.

The list of possible tenants includes area technology firms as well as researchers attached to area universities, said Steve Helmbrecht, chair of the SIRTI Foundation, the entity that received the EDA grant.

Brian Pitcher, the new WSU Spokane chancellor, said the school is considering leasing space in the technology center.

One option, for example, would be to transfer there some of the projects headed by WSU Physics Professor Yogendra “Yogi” Gupta’s Applied Science Laboratory, Pitcher said. For now, Gupta’s team of researchers work at the Riverpoint Health Science Building across the street from SIRTI’s main building.

Helmbrecht said the new center will be a launch pad for innovative young companies.

SIRTI officials expects to lease about 40 percent of the available space in the first year the tech center opens, said SIRTI’s Patrick Jones. After five years, the goal is 90 percent occupancy.

Simmons said the expectation is that the center will generate around $450,000 a year in revenue. Operating costs should be roughly the same, he said.


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