The partnership between Oro Valley and the University of Arizona will grow even stronger in the coming years, according to a report filed by town manager Mary Jacobs.
UA President Robert C. Robbins recently announced his Strategic Plan for the University. Among wide-reaching plans into 2025, Robbins’ Strategic Plan is for the UA to “Become the premier innovation center in the Southwest” and to become an “integral and collaborative partner with our local and global communities.”
This collaboration between the UA and Oro Valley comes in the form of two projects: a biotech business incubator and a college of veterinary medicine.
“For many years, we have been very supportive of biotech incubation in the community,” said Oro Valley Economic Development Director J.J. Johnston. “What we found very exciting was for us to have a partnership in it with the university… the fact our community has been viewed as one of four strategic business incubators is very crucial.”
The Town of Oro Valley is focusing on increasing its biotech industry with the creation of a new “business incubator” in Innovation Park, BioSA Innovation. The nonprofit affiliate of the Bioindustry Organization of Southern Arizona was planned as a “community effort to foster the success of new bioscience products resulting from biomedical research performed in Southern Arizona.”
While BioSA Innovation was originally planned for occupancy in the third quarter of 2018, the town faced delays due in part to funding and for rebranding to closer align with the goals of the UA.
“The ability to collaborate between private industry, the University of Arizona and local government is all part of our economic development strategy,” Johnston said.
According to Johnston, the BioSA Incubator is rebranding for a number of reasons, such as to develop flexible labspace to align with the UA. Another one of the main reasons is to have a research niche, differentiating Oro Valley from other science areas throughout the region.
“We want to brand Oro Valley to be more diagnostic and discovery-driven in the bio field,” Johnston said. “That way we can complement other incubators in the region, not duplicate results.”
According to the Oro Valley Town Manager’s January 2019 Executive Report, Oro Valley is poised to break ground on BioSA Innovation sometime in 2019 to 2020. The town is close to meeting its fundraising goal for BioSA Innovation, and will begin construction on the building’s first phase of roughly 4,000 square feet of office and lab space. After that, the incubator could expand to over 10,000 square feet.
The other collaboration between Oro Valley and the UA is the opening of the planned College of Veterinary Medicine, which Julie Funk was recently announced as dean. Funk is planned to lead the proposed College of Veterinary Medicine’s education, research and training programs.
“Arizona has been in need of a public veterinary medicine program for some time now and this program will have a positive impact on both animal and public health throughout the state,” Funk said. “With the new strategic plan in place, the university is well-positioned to be an innovative leader in veterinary medical education.”
The College of Veterinary Medicine, funded by an $8 million bond approved by the Arizona Board of Regents, will be renovated from an existing Oro Valley building previously used as headquarters and labs for a pharmaceutical company. The 30,000 square foot building will contain labs, classrooms and medical facilities, akin to a post-graduate medical school. Renovations began in July, 2018, and are expected to be finished this summer.
Johnston says the Town of Oro Valley and the UA have many similar, mutually-beneficial goals, including a want to expand local scientific discovery, encourage entrepreneurs in research, leverage the life-sciences at the UA, and form a planned network of research incubators and accelerators.
“The University is such a key part of the economic engine of the region,” Johnston said. “We want to collaborate and cooperate wherever we can… We think it’s going to significantly advance the whole region’s ecosystem.”