from Birmingham Southern Research is building an $84 million facility that will enhance its research capabilities, create nearly 550 jobs and double the organization’s economic impact to $300 million annually. The new building will be central to efforts to improve public health outcomes across Alabama, said Dr. Josh Carpenter, president and CEO of Southern Research.
“This is a bold investment that will benefit Birmingham and all of Alabama by creating economic development through innovation,” Carpenter said. “It’s a generational opportunity.”
Southern Research has been a staple of Birmingham’s Southside for almost eight decades. An independent nonprofit, it has long been recognized among the nation’s leading research institutions, working in four key areas: drug development, drug discovery, energy and environment, and engineering.
It began in the fall of 1941 with an effort led by Tom Martin, then president of Alabama Power, to create a “research institute of the South”. Martin was a strong advocate of science and research as key to the industrial growth of the South and the retention of educated young people in the region.
Temporarily delayed by the start of World War II, the Alabama Research Institute was officially launched in December 1943, with Martin as chairman of the board. The following year the name was changed to Southern Research Institute and the organization occupied its first facility on what remains its campus today.
Southern Research currently employs over 400 people, generates revenues of over $80 million annually, and receives more funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) than any other non-university research center in Alabama. It is the only fully autonomous not-for-profit research center in Alabama, with its activities funded by industry contracts, grants, and revenue generated from intellectual properties.
More recently, Southern Research has been a key player in the fight against the pandemic. Its scientists have done more than $30 million in research related to COVID-19, playing a vital role in refining remdesivir and other drug treatments for the virus. It is the only high-throughput screening center in the state to test new compounds to treat diseases and their variants, the only scientific organization that has contributed directly to the development of vaccines.
“We have a unique role,” Carpenter said. “From the start, this organization has been a hub for economic development and job creation in Birmingham.”
With the campus of UABSouthern Research forms a 40-block area in which $750 million of biomedical research was conducted in 2021. This figure includes more than $300 million from the NIH, ranking Birmingham eighth nationally per capita for NIH funding.
Even so, Carpenter stressed, growth is both an opportunity and a necessity. UAB alone produces more than 400 biomedical science graduates each year, while schools in the Birmingham and Tuscaloosa – UAB area, the University of Alabama, Birmingham Southern College, Samford Universitythe University of Montevallo, Miles College, Stillman College and Talladega College – produce a combined annual total of nearly 800 graduates. Last year, there were fewer than 100 local job openings for these graduates, meaning the vast majority go elsewhere to put their skills to good use.
“Alabama is hemorrhaging human capital,” Carpenter said. “We are losing local talent in biomedical sciences. Changing that and attracting talent from elsewhere will open up huge opportunities for Birmingham and Alabama.
The quantity and quality of facilities available for research activities are key to retaining and attracting talent. With adequate private and public investment, Carpenter envisions the 40 square blocks occupied by SR and UAB as an emerging biotech corridor that will drive scientific advances and economic growth for a generation to come. Key to this vision is the new building, which will have what Carpenter called a “seismic” economic impact.
“Biotech is Birmingham’s future,” Carpenter said. “This building is the bridgehead.”
Located on Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard and Ninth Avenue South – the former site of the recently demolished Quinlan Castle – the new facility will comprise 80,000 square feet over five levels. This includes 7,500 square feet of Biosafety Level 3 labs, doubling the current space to accommodate rapidly increasing infectious disease research.
“We’ve had to turn down contracts for lack of adequate space,” Carpenter said. “The addition of this facility will allow us to take on more work from government agencies and private industry that are advancing drugs and diagnostics to fight infectious diseases. We will do more research on potential infectious agents, which means we will go a long way toward better preparing for future pandemics.
Additionally, the new building will house a STEM education center, high-throughput screening facilities, structural biology and infectious disease research labs, and an innovation and commercialization center. Its completion will open up 60,000 feet of existing space for conversion into commercial wet lab space, which will be used to attract and incubate new biotech companies.
Crowning the building, literally and figuratively, will be a Precision Center for Population Health. The center will be dedicated to improving public health in Alabama, where issues such as diabetes, heart and lower respiratory disease, and stroke have been contributing to growing health problems and reduced blood pressure. ‘life expectancy.
“Last year, Alabama had more deaths than births for the first time in its history,” Carpenter said. “It has everything to do with public health. We want to marry our work with improving the health of the people of Alabama, bringing in the best scientists in a huge area of patient need.
The cost of constructing the new building is $84 million. Southern Research plans to invest $25 million of that total and hopes to raise most of the rest through allocations of funds provided to state, county and local governments by the federal government. US rescue plan — $45 million from the State of Alabama and $10 million combined from the City of Birmingham and Jefferson County, with the remaining $4 million from other sources.
Projections provided by Southern Research estimate that the construction phase of the facility will create 1,120 construction jobs and more than $190 million in associated economic activity. Once completed, the facility will create nearly 550 permanent jobs and approximately $130 million per year in recurring economic activity.
“Southern Research has not built a new facility on its campus in 33 years and has never received capital investment from the City of Birmingham, Jefferson County or the State of Alabama,” said said Carpenter. “We hope they will agree that investing in pandemic preparedness and improving public health while generating huge economic impacts is a smart move for a better future.”