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From Site Selection magazine, May 2011

Cultivated Crop

Ag-bio just keeps on growing in North Carolina.

Alexandria Real Estate Equities plans a multi-tenant facility for agricultural research.

wo major life sciences projects, both in the ag-bio sector, were announced for the Research Triangle Park area within a span of three days in mid-May. Syngenta Biotechnology plans a US$71-million research facility, while Alexandria Real Estate Equities plans to build the Alexandria Ag-Tech Center.

The projects give further credence to RTP's role-model status as an industry cluster, most recently highlighted on May 20 when the Obama Administration cited the area in announcing its new $33-million Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge to support the advancement of at least 20 competitively selected industry clusters across the country. Though RTP leaders would no doubt welcome being selected to receive some of that federal cash, the Research Triangle's competitiveness over its decades of growth has come primarily from being selected by companies.

Syngenta plans a 147,000-sq.-ft. (13,656-sq.-m.) facility that it says will allow its researchers to pursue projects that will help farmers grow more from less. The new site will include all-glass, climate-controlled greenhouses and precision growth chambers, which, borrowing from technology developed by NASA, will offer complete control of multiple growth variables, including water, nutrients, light and atmospheric gases.

The new facility will be located adjacent to the company's existing campus in Durham County. Syngenta expects to break ground on the new site in June.

"We're very excited about the capabilities this new facility will enable," said Michiel van Lookeren Campagne, president of Syngenta Biotechnology. "These sophisticated growth environments will help our researchers study traits with greater precision and efficiency, ultimately leading to discoveries that will enhance plant productivity."

Utilizing the new growth environments, scientists will isolate environmental elements in order to study their effects on specific agronomic traits, focusing on improving crop yields by combating plant stresses such as drought and insect pressures. Research will be performed on key crops including corn, soybeans, sugar cane, rice and vegetables.

The new facility will be located adjacent to the company's existing campus in Durham County. Syngenta expects to break ground on the new site in June.

"We've been operating in RTP for more than 25 years, and the community here has been very supportive of Syngenta and its employees," said van Lookeren Campagne. "Through our employees' enthusiastic support of Syngenta's community outreach initiatives, we've grown to become an integrated member of this vibrant region."

Syngenta Biotechnology, which specializes in plant genetics, opened its doors in Research Triangle Park in 1984. Since that time, the company has steadily expanded employment and its facilities in the park, which now include greenhouses, laboratories and administrative offices.

"This investment demonstrates our commitment to R&D and to remain at the forefront of plant genetics research," said Sandro Aruffo, Syngenta's head of research and development. "The advanced technologies that will be implemented at this new site will accelerate our R&D efforts to develop agronomic traits that will enable crops to better withstand complex environmental challenges."

Beyond Food

Alexandria Real Estate Equities plans to build the Alexandria Ag-Tech Center, North Carolina.

The $13.5-million Alexandria Ag-Tech Center, to be located in Durham County, will house greenhouse space for research related to agriculture, biotechnology, clean technology, and human health. The 50,000-sq.-ft. (4,645-sq.-m.) Ag-Tech Center will will include 18,000 sq. ft. (1,672 sq. m.) of flexible greenhouse space. It will feature individual greenhouse modules and specialized support areas along with innovative shared amenities.

Agriculture is a $74-billion industry in North Carolina. Currently more than 4,000 North Carolinians work at more than 70 ag technology companies, including BASF Group, Bayer CropScience AG, Monsanto, Novozymes North America and Syngenta.

"Alexandria is excited to be working with the State of North Carolina on this unique project," said Oliver Sherrill, vice president-regional market director at Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. "Agricultural biotechnology holds great promise for sustainable agriculture, improved human health, and clean energy. The Alexandria Ag-Tech Center will provide ag-biotechnology companies with unprecedented access to state-of-the-art greenhouse facilities for research, accelerating their growth, and further strengthening North Carolina's position as a leader in ag biotechnology."

The center will accommodate multiple tenants. Each greenhouse will have separate environmental controls, along with planting, growth chamber, and support spaces. 

"We see a vast potential in ag technology to broaden our economic base and create jobs," said Norris Tolson, president and CEO of the North Carolina Biotech Center. "When you look at the whole range and breadth of what agriculture can do for us in North Carolina, it is well beyond just food on the table."

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