Leigh Miller for GlobalAtlanta
Athens has been selected as one of 18 potential sites for a future federal research facility that would address pandemics and biological and agricultural terrorism. Georgia has good chances of being selected, according to David Lee, the University of Georgia’s vice president for research.
Georgia submitted its bid in March to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security proposing that a National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility be constructed in Athens.
The facility would include laboratories that are certified to handle the most dangerous diseases. Researchers would work to combat public health concerns about anthrax, botulism, ebola virus and smallpox, and food threats such as Escherichia coli and salmonella.
“If the site selection is made on the basis of merit, Georgia makes as strong a case as anyone. But we all recognize that this has strong political elements. If it is judged on merit alone, we will be a very serious contender,” Dr. Lee told GlobalAtlanta.
“We like to consider this a Georgia initiative. If we win, it will be because of a statewide effort. Athens by itself would not win this facility,” he said.
The Homeland Security department is to conduct a further review of the 18 proposed sites to determine which would be the best location for the 500,000-square-foot facility that would employ some 500 federal employees.
Athens was proposed because of its proximity to existing research facilities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Richard B. Russell Research Center.
The proposed site is owned by UGA and is on College Station Road adjacent to the Russell center and the Southeast Poultry Research Laboratory. A secondary site is on South Milledge Avenue at the southern end of the university campus.
Georgia was one of 20 states that submitted 29 applications proposing to house the center.
To complete its proposal, the state formed the Georgia Consortium for Health and Agro-Security, a group representing the Georgia Research Alliance, Georgia Department of Economic Development’s Innovation and Technology Office, Georgia Institute of Technology, Emory University, Medical College of Georgia, UGA and other Georgia higher education institutions, as well as businesses.
A Carl Vinson Institute of Government analysis estimated the 20-year impact of the proposed center at $1.5-$2.5 billion in salaries would have a $3.5-$6 billion total economic impact. Construction of the facility would create 1,000 jobs.
Visit www.georgia.org/nbaf for more information or contact the Georgia Department of Economic Development at (404) 962-4000. Contact Dr. Lee’s office at (706) 542-5969.