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Biotech Companies Need Lab Space to Bring New Jobs to the Triangle

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RALEIGH — Computers, construction and communications industries are booming in the Triangle. Now there is a new group of companies ready to explode onto the scene.

Biotech companies develop drugs, medical devices or disease resistant plants. The Triangle already has many of them. More may come bringing thousands of new jobs if they can get past a shortage of lab space.

"Since early 1997, we've basically tripled in size," said Marty Haslanger, Sphinx Pharmaceuticals president.

Sphinx Pharmaceuticals is among more than 100 biotech companies in the Triangle. Together they employ 13,000 people.

A new study for the Research Triangle Regional Partnership says that figure will keep growing as the industry goes through another growth spurt.

"It's going to produce 4,500 permanent jobs in the life-science industry. That's an 87 percent growth rate in three years," said John Atkins, Regional Partnership chairman.

Sphinx almost had to expand elsewhere because of a lack of lab space, but it had enough financial muscle to build a new building.

But many startup companies do not, and that could keep the biotech boom from reaching its full potential.

"What we found from the study is we're basically at capacity with the current lab space that's in the marketplace," said Atkins.

Business leaders are now looking at ways to create more lab space. The president of Sphinx says if the start-up biotech companies do not find space here, they will go elsewhere.

"I think it is important that there be space for the new companies to incubate their ideas," said Haslanger.

The jobs these biotech companies generate often have starting pay in the $25,000 to $50,000 a year range.

Many require a four-year degree. Some workers only need a two-year technical degree.