tand in front of the
for Medical Research's new building and you can't help but think, "Boy, there sure is a lot of land out here — empty land."
The completion of Burnham's 175,000-square-foot building is certainly a milestone. And the idea that scientists are toiling away inside to find lifesaving cures to diseases is exciting.
Hopefully, they don't mind working in the middle of nowhere.
Because, for now, the first building to open in the budding "medical city" in Lake Nona, a 7,000-acre development centered on a golf and country club and controlled by billionaire
' Tavistock Group, looks awfully lonesome.
Even when UCF's medical school opens there next year and construction is completed on the Nemours Children's Hospital and VA Hospital, there still will be a lot of empty land left over.
The plan for the large lots owned by the Lake Nona Land Co. calls for a retail development along with biotechnology companies and spinoff scientific ventures catalyzed by the research facilities and hospitals.
The reality could be another thing all together.
Competition for those businesses is heating up. Central Florida isn't the only region putting big dollars on the line to attract a biotechnology cluster.
, an industry trade publication, removed
from its list — published last week — of Top 5 states and Canadian provinces working to attract a biotechnology cluster.
That's an indication of just how hard it's going to be to build the critical mass necessary to truly call "medical city" a city rather than a lonely outpost off S.R. 417.
, Ontario and
all made the list.
The May issue of
cited Florida as having an edge in continuing to establish a cluster because "east coast researchers often are familiar with Florida."
But the article goes on to lament the end of the "Innovation Incentive Fund" from which millions of dollars were used to lure Burnham here. The Legislature eliminated the fund last year.
The publication also gave Colorado a nod for the money its state government is throwing behind startup companies and research facilities. It also mentioned Madison, Wis.,
, Calif., and Houston as areas of big potential.
Thad Seymour of
along with bioOrlando Director Eric Ushkowitz and others from the region will be checking out the competition in Atlanta this week at the Bio International show.
"It's a constant effort to raise awareness and build the brand of what's out here," Ushkowitz said.
Here's a sobering reality check on just how hard the recession has hit Central Florida: Commercial real-estate broker John Crossman said he has known four men in the local real-estate business who have taken their own lives in the past 15 months.
"All of them caught me off guard," said Crossman, president of Crossman and Co. "It's very, very tragic ... That was really weighing on my heart. People need to hear there is help — whatever problem you're dealing with."
It prompted Crossman, who also is involved with a prison ministry, to begin a Bible study for men centered on a recent book,
How to Survive the Economic Meltdown,
by Orlando developer-turned-Christian-author Patrick Morley.
The group quickly took on 30 members, including high-level executives such as
President Kim Lopdrup, who encouraged four friends to attend.
"I knew several people who had lost jobs or were experiencing other challenges, who I thought would benefit from participating," Lopdrup said in a statement promoting the book.
Morley, who has published 16 books, is giving this one away.
to download a free copy.
Beth Kassab can be reached at