Biotech2012_IMG_3857The 9th Annual Celebration of Biotechnology at Alachua Progress Corporate Park hosted 70 vendors who cater to local biotech companies. The high growth industry has found a fertile niche in the park where 80 percent of the 1,100 workers are employed by University of Florida spinoff companies.

ALACHUA – Preparing the space shuttle for the gravity-defying trip from Earth into space, engineers carefully selected the glass for the windows. The engineers calculated the extreme measures the material would have to endure, such as high pressures, heat and extreme cold.

As the shuttle spirals through the last frontier, the glass protects the precious cargo inside – scientific research, data and, of course, the astronauts. So when the glass was selected, NASA and its engineers went to the same manufacturers who provided Thomas Edison an exterior for his light bulb – Corning Incorporated.

Corning was just one of 70 vendors on display at the 9th Annual Celebration of Biotechnology at Alachua Progress Corporate Park on Thursday, May 10. The vendors presented their wares under tents set up on the lawn in front of RTI Biologics, the host of the annual celebration.  The event, sponsored by BioFlorida, draws approximately 400 visitors to the area.

“It all started because we wanted to highlight companies in Progress Corporate Park,” said Jenny Highlander, an RTI Biologics employee.

Visitors to the celebration could participate in a bus tour, which covered the businesses in the park not featured at the celebration. For the first time, the event also included an art gallery, which featured art inspired by science.

Vendors at the annual event welcome the chance to show their products to local biotech companies. “It’s good to get in on the ground level,” said Brigit Wilcox, a representative of Micronova Manufacturing, Inc. “As [the small biotech companies] grow, we grow with them.”

North Central Florida houses 33 of the 193 biotech companies in Florida. Progress Corporate Park sits at the epicenter of the Alachua County biotech industry as home to UF’s Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator, which includes Pasteuria Science, AxoGen and Applied Food Technologys, among several others. The Incubator provides lab space, greenhouses and fermentation facilities.

Since 2008, the size of the biotech industry in Florida has grown by 42 percent, said Michael Schmitt, editor of Florida BioDatabase. Over the same period of time, the biotechnology has grown by only 5 percent nationwide.

It’s a sign that the incubators and large research universities are aiding the growth, Schmitt said. The Florida biotechnology industry has grown more since 2004 than all other years combined.

Stephanie Warrington, vice chair of BioFlorida, said she still believes biotechnology to be an emerging industry, despite its growth.

“There’s a lot of growth in the industry happening right here,” she said. The University of Florida is ranked number one for transferring ideas into commercial products, and currently 80 percent of the 1,100 workers at the Park are employed by University of Florida spinoff companies.

The incubator, said Warrington, provides a wonderful entrepreneurial ecosystem that helps biotechnology stay in the region and continue to grow.

This year, representatives and realtors from Infusion Technology Center at UF Innovation Square showcased the new building, which sits adjacent to the University of Florida. The new structure will provide unmatched access to research infrastructure and technology located at UF, as well as an open exchange of ideas. Infusion provides wet lab, dry lab, office, restaurant and retail space.

The North Florida area brings together the influential powerhouses spanning across industries, such as Progress Corporate Park, Innovation Square, University of Florida, Shands HealthCare and the City of Gainesville.

Home to more than a dozen world class research centers, Florida continues to show resilience in establishing a true “bioscience brand,” said Patti Breedlove, manager of the Sid Martin Biotechnology Incubator.