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New England News

Key Player In Pittsfield's Innovation Center Project Pulls Out

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A key player in Pittsfield’s attempt to revitalize a former General Electric site has pulled out.

Over the past year, Nuclea Biotechnologies has expanded from manufacturing to commercialization with plans to hire more than 30 people in the coming months. Headquartered in Pittsfield, Nuclea purchased WILEX, Inc. of Cambridge in September and has started selling its own cancer-detecting blood test. CEO Pat Muraca says Nuclea was hoping to lease 5,000 square feet and be an anchor tenant of a proposed 20,000-square foot center at the William Stanley Business Park.

“The last proposal was specifically that there was 150 square feet that was being allocated for Nuclea,” Muraca said. “That just wasn’t enough. With the size of the building right now and the timeline I don’t think it would be prudent for Nuclea to lease a small piece of space like that especially when we are trying to be all in the same building.”

The Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, or PEDA, is tasked with redeveloping the 52-acre former GE site. Cory Thurston is executive director of the quasi-public agency.

“Nuclea has been key to get us to where we’re at and I fully expect that as we grow the life sciences within Berkshire County everything that they’re doing we help us be more successful and be more successful quicker,” Thurston said. “The focus is on life sciences under the big umbrella.”

Thurston says a feasibility study shifted the focus of the center from housing brand-new startup companies to ones in the research and development phase in smaller spaces.

“Anything from a closet-sized office where they can store some of their research and documentation to larger spaces to actually produce some samples,” Thurston explained. “But, eventually probably within three to four years companies would have to vacate the space.”

Nuclea pays $60,000 a month to lease its Cambridge manufacturing site, so Muraca says the company is looking at a cheaper site closer to its Pittsfield headquarters.

“One of the big things that we would like to be able to do is start FDA manufacturing in Pittsfield,” Muraca said. “We need a building that will support that. It can’t be an older building. It has to be a building that can be retrofitted with new equipment and new types of construction that’s needed for what’s called GMP [good manufacturing practices] manufacturing.”

The city and PEDA continue work on a business plan to secure a $6.5 million earmark from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center to build an innovation facility that would house multiple companies at the business park. It’s part of a $1 billion state initiative to invest in the industry that began in 2008. PEDA will make its next presentation to the state in May. If approved, the city wouldn’t receive the money until 2017 — a timeline that didn’t suit Nuclea. Thurston says the proposed building would cost $9.5 million for construction and equipment.

“When you’ve got a $6.5 million guarantee on the other end, the extra $3 million shouldn’t be hard to come up with,” said Thurston.

Thurston says 20 area companies have agreed to be members in sharing and using the center at a fee to go along with leased space that PEDA plans to advertise.

“Our number one priority at least at my agency and on my mind has always been supporting our existing businesses and manufacturers first,” Thurston said. “Retention, maintain the jobs and doing what we can to support and grow our existing companies.”

Muraca says he and Nuclea support the innovation center project in Pittsfield. Meanwhile, PEDA, the city and area businesses continue work on a financial incentive package to have a company manufacturing MBTA rail cars at the former GE site.

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