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Report Mulls Possible Socioeconomic Impact Of DHS’ National Ag-Bio Defense Facility

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[Editor’s Note: This is the final installment in a three-part report covering the $451 million National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility proposed by the US Department of Homeland Security.]
 
Supporters of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility located in the five states jockeying to house the center have generously cited what they believe to be its national-security benefits, including enhancing public health and staving off the catastrophic effects of animal-borne disease on US agricultural industry.
 
And each of the states has developed its own set of arguments as it tries to convince its citizens that building the facility within its borders would add relatively high-paying jobs, grow local tax bases, and underpin their economies around the life sciences.
 
Now a third cache of data has entered the debate in the form a report written by a team of consultants hired by the Department of Homeland Security, NBAF’s parent agency, to consider the potential wide-ranging socioeconomic impacts of such a facility.
 
DHS is weighing bids by Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Texas to host the biolab. Also under consideration is a sixth option, retaining the existing Plum Island Animal Disease Center at Plum Island in New York — though the agency has said it considers the 1950s-era facility too old to modernize feasibly.
 
“We’re looking at cost. We’re looking at site characterization studies. We’re looking at the potential closure and transition costs for the Plum Island facility. There are a number of different factors that we’re evaluating,” Amy Kudwa, a DHS spokeswoman, told BioRegion News recently. “We’re looking for the best value and the best site for the facility for the federal government.”
 
The project’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement, prepared by consultants for DHS, details many of the numbers behind the projected socioeconomic effects of NBAF. Some of the numbers are constant no matter where the biolab is located, while other figures vary from state to state. Click here for the executive summary.
 
DHS has projected its biolab would generate between 1,300 and 1,614 construction jobs over four years and create between $138.2 million and $183.9 million in labor income. When completed, the facility would have between 250 and 350 permanent jobs that together would yield between $26.8 million and $30.4 million in annual salaries. The report uses 326 jobs as the basis of economic forecasts, suggesting that may be the most likely number of people employed by NBAF.
 
Wherever the facility is built, NBAF employees would command an average salary plus benefits totaling $82,622, with more than 80 research scientists and managers set to earn more than $125,000 annually. The DEIS adjusted the salary figure to an average per capita income of $66,924 to allow for comparing incomes across communities, as well as account for the fact some staffers will have worked a full year at the facility.
 
The NBAF would consist of 500,000 to 520,000 square feet housed in two laboratory buildings and four outbuildings. One building would serve as the primary research facility containing biosafety laboratories rated 2, 3E, 3A, and the highest rating of 4, plus support spaces. The second building would serve as a laboratory for small-scale vaccine and reagent production.
 
The environmental report, prepared by consultants to DHS, predicts only “negligible” effects of NBAF on local housing markets, quality of life, medical facilities, and the resources of local police and fire departments: “Law enforcement and fire protection personnel could be adequately trained by DHS to respond to incidents at the NBAF.”
 
For instance, the report acknowledges that warm weather much of the year in Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Texas could help “increase the risk of Rift Valley fever virus becoming established,” but adds that “in any case, the risk of release remains very small.”
 
The promises of more jobs and minimal effects have not been enough to stop organized opposition to NBAF from groups and individuals, especially in Georgia and North Carolina. In those states, opponents contend that the biolab poses insurmountable risks to public health and public safety, and that its economic benefits have been overstated by DHS.
 
Undeterred by the opposition in its state has been a coalition of government, business, and academic leaders in Georgia, which has continued to back the project [BRN, Sept. 2]. But in North Carolina, a similar public-private consortium has suspended its advocacy of the biolab after several local governments either declared themselves against the project or backtracked on earlier support. [See sidebar and BRN, Aug. 18]

 

And although state supporters project that NBAF will help funnel greater research dollars to area universities, none has quantified just how much more they expect to receive if the biolab is built in their states.
 
Following are state-by-state reviews of NBAF’s socioeconomic impacts as projected in the DEIS and discussed in interviews with BRN:
 
Georgia
                       
Georgia would create a site for NBAF by having the state Board of Regents donate to DHS 67 acres in Athens-Clarke County. DHS would then build the biolab and operate it with staff and scientists from the US Department of Agriculture. The project would rise on the southern end of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences campus currently used as a horse pasture located behind UGA’s Livestock Instructional Arena.
 
During each of the four years the facility would be built, the Georgia site would generate 661 direct construction jobs, and 317 additional construction jobs associated with the project — for example, development of new homes for biolab workers. The median price for a single-family home is $143,234 in the areas comprising Clarke, Madison, and Oconee counties.
 
That construction work would generate a total $44 million in federal, state, and local taxes, with state and local officials seeing $14.6 million of that money.
 
A total 257 biolab employees are expected to relocate to the project area resulting in 671 new residents when their nuclear families are counted. Those new workers would account for 5 percent of total population growth in those three counties, which last year recorded an estimated median household income of $42,311, and per-capita income of $22,403.
 
The NBAF each year is projected to generate $3.2 million in taxes — half for the federal government, the other half for Georgia and Athens-Clarke County.
 
Supporters of the facility in Georgia have said it will generate at least one additional life-sci project: an interdisciplinary infectious-disease research center the state would build for the University of Georgia campus.
 
“We think of it as an interface building that would showcase our infectious disease efforts,” David Lee, UGA’s vice president for research, told BRN last month. “As we recruited more faculty, the idea is that it would be a portal to NBAF.”
 
Kansas
 
NBAF would rise on the Manhattan campus of Kansas State University, immediately adjacent to the Biosecurity Research Institute, a $54 million research/education facility that, like that planned by NBAF, has BSL-3 and BSL-3 Ag-research space and BSL-3 Enhanced space.
 
The site borders the research laboratories and teaching hospital of the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Kansas supporters say NBAF would serve as an important piece of the Kansas City Animal Health Corridor that life-sciences leaders and others have worked to expand in recent years.
 
“With the state’s deep agricultural heritage, there is a built-in appreciation of the need to conduct research that will protect the American food supply and ag economy,” Chad Bettes, a spokesman for the Kansas Bioscience Authority, told BRN via e-mail. The public-private authority was created as part of the Kansas Economic Growth Act of 2004 to grow the state’s life-sciences research industry.
 
“Further, Kansas State University is already known for its research leadership in this area with modern, safe, state-of-the-art facilities such as the Biosecurity Research Institute, which was built in recent years with strong public support,” Bettes said. “Where industry clustering and expertise develop, as they have in the KC Animal Health Corridor, increased research spending (private and public) follows, as does further industry growth.”
 
The Kansas site would generate 679 direct construction jobs and 283 additional construction jobs associated with the project. The median price for a single-family home is $111,924 in the region studied by the report, which includes Riley, Geary, and Pottawatomie counties.
 
Construction work would generate a total $38.1 million in federal, state, and local taxes, with state and local officials seeing $12.5 million of that money.
 
A total 300 biolab employees are expected to relocate to the project area, resulting in 783 new residents when their families are counted. But the impact on future population growth is minimal compared with a planned expansion of the US Army’s Fort Riley, which will draw 23,569 new people to the three-county region between 2007 and 2012, the report stated.
 
Those counties combined last year had an estimated annual median income of $42,703, and per capita income of $20,899.
 
Each year, the facility is projected to generate $2.8 million in taxes — $1.5 million to state and local governments and $1.3 million federal.
 
Mississippi
 
With a smaller life-sciences industry than its four rival states, Mississippi proponents have tried to woo project organizers by emphasizing certain other selling points for the state.
 
One is its success in recent years in attracting large-scale manufacturing facilities, including projects by Toyota and Nissan. Toyota is constructing a $1.3 billion plant in Blue Springs that is projected to produce 150,000 Prius hybrid cars annually starting in 2010 when the plant opens. And Nissan has invested more than $1.4 billion in the plant it operates north of Jackson, which it has expanded once since 2000. Both Japanese auto giants have also drawn to Mississippi a tier of suppliers and other businesses.
 
Even without NBAF, the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson has already begun developing a bioscience campus, notes a leader in the Gulf States Bio- and Agro-Defense Consortium, which is working to bring NBAF to Mississippi.
 
We’re meeting with some prospects for that particular area already,” Duane O’Neill, the president and CEO of the Greater Jackson Chamber Partnership, told BRN recently. “That would be greatly enhanced if NBAF were to locate here.”
 
Mississippi holds one advantage over the other states: At $94,645, the state has the lowest median single-family housing price of its four rivals, according to the DEIS. Numbers like that, supporters say, should sway DHS.
 
But according to a news article appearing in local media last month, an internal DHS memorandum showed that the agency put Mississippi on its NBAF short list over nine other states — including biotech powerhouses like California and Maryland — that had better scores as assessed by agency staffers.
 
O’Neill shrugged off the report. “We feel very comfortable with our consortium, especially our research consortium,” he said. “We think that is as strong an education and research consortium as anybody can put forward. We feel very good about that.”
 
Alone among the states seeking NBAF, Mississippi has drawn to its consortium two key out-of-state academic partners: Tulane University of New Orleans, which houses the National Primate Research Center; and Iowa State University and its College of Veterinary Medicine. The partnerships draw on existing academic collaborations with Mississippi universities.
 
We wanted to search them out to see if they would partner with us, so that if there was collaboration there at this point, they would definitely be a part of the process as it moves forward, and if the facility was located here, that collective collaboration between NBAF and their universities would be beneficial to them as well. That was the mindset behind it,” O’Neill said.
 
A third big-name partner in Mississippi’s effort is its consultant Battelle Memorial Foundation, which has helped develop dozens of regional biotech clusters nationwide. “Battelle was aware of what was being proposed with the NBAF. And they actually looked at some of the folks that were going to be in the running, and they chose us,” O’Neill said.
 
NBAF’s Mississippi site would be a 150-acre site within the Flora Industrial Park in Madison County, a mixed-use commercial park whose sole tenant is Primus, a manufacturing company.
 
The Mississippi site would generate 686 direct construction jobs, and 313 additional construction jobs associated with the project. Construction work would generate a total $41.6 million in federal, state, and local taxes, with $14.4 million going to state and local officials.
 
A total 246 biolab employees are expected to relocate to the project area, resulting in 642 new residents when their families are counted, or 4 percent of the total population increase expected in the region between 2007 and 2012, according to the DEIS.
 
Those counties combined had an estimated annual median income last year of $42,527, and per capita income of $29,755.
 
Each year, the facility is projected to generate $3.6 million in taxes — $1.9 million to state and local governments, the rest to the federal government.
 
North Carolina
 
In North Carolina, the biolab would rise within 195 undeveloped acres at the Granville County portion of the 4,035-acre North Carolina Department of Agriculture Umstead Research Farm in Butner.
 
Supporters within the North Carolina Consortium for the National Bio- and Agro- Defense Facility have cited the project’s location about a 20-minute drive northwest of Raleigh and Research Triangle Park, and a slightly longer drive to the Triad region anchored by the cities of Greensboro, Winston-Salem, and High Point.
 
The North Carolina site would generate 612 direct construction jobs, and 311 additional construction jobs associated with the project. Construction work would generate a total $51.5 million in federal, state, and local taxes, with $16.2 million going to state and local officials.
 
A total 263 biolab employees are expected to move to the project area from elsewhere in the US, resulting in 686 new residents when their families are counted — less than 1 percent of the 188,278 people expected to migrate by 2012 to Granville and nearby Durham, Vance, and Wake counties.
 
Those counties combined had an estimated annual median income last year of $66,558, and per capita income of $22,353.
 
Each year, the facility is projected to generate $5.4 million in taxes — with Washington receiving half, and the state and local governments the other half.
 
Texas
 
NBAF’s Texas site consists of 100 acres within the 1,236-acre Texas Research Park, straddling Bexar and Medina Counties. The research park site is part of a former working ranch that was donated to the Texas Research & Technology Foundation in 1986, and is located about four miles west of the city of San Antonio.
 
Members of the Texas Biological and Agro-Defense Consortium hope the biolab will help grow San Antonio’s budding commercial life sciences industry, which includes companies like Genzyme and DPT Laboratories, as well as add to the region’s number of government and other research facilities.
 
“There are a number of commercial biotechnology companies in San Antonio, and we’d obviously like to have more of the commercial biotech industry come,” Harold Timboe, a leader of the consortium, told BRN.
 
A retired major general and commander of Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC, Timboe later joined the University of Texas, retiring last year from his post as associate vice president for research at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio.
 
“It would be a very prominent component to add to what San Antonio is trying to do. It would highlight our existing biotech industry,” Timboe added in a recent interview.
 
That industry, he said, includes the Southwest Foundation for Biomedical Research, a biomedical research institution whose 332-acre San Antonio campus includes the nation's only privately owned BSL-4 laboratory.
 
“The NBAF will give much larger capabilities, and therefore throughput, in researching multiple pathogens at the same time. It’s the laboratory infrastructure that the NBAF represents, and also it’s the research teams that the DHS and department of agriculture would assemble to do that specialized research that are attractive to us,” Timboe said. “The biotech industry and the pharmaceutical companies aren’t going to do these sorts of things, because these are unusual pathogens, there’s no commercial market for it.”
 
The Texas site would generate 607 direct construction jobs, and 400 additional construction jobs associated with the project. Construction work would generate a total $52.4 million in federal, state, and local taxes, with $13.6 million going to state and local officials.
 
A total 296 biolab employees are expected to move to the project area from elsewhere in the US, resulting in 772 new residents when their families are counted — a fraction of the population increase of 150,919 expected in Bexar and Medina counties between 2007 and 2012, according to the DEIS.
 
Those counties combined had an estimated annual median income last year of $46,993, and per capita income of $23,134.
 
Each year, the facility is projected to generate $4 million in taxes — including $1.7 million to state and local governments.

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