Decision near on Battelle-college research plan
SEQUIM - Oct. 1 could mark a turning point for the local economy and make the North Olympic Peninsula a place scientists want to stay in or move to, said Dr. Tom Keegan, president of Peninsula College.
Next month, Keegan will hear whether the college, along with Battelle Memorial Institute, a private nonprofit company that runs the Marine Research Operations laboratories on Sequim Bay, will be designated principals in an state Innovative Partnership Zone.
Under a new state program, five such zones in Washington state will receive grants of up to $1 million each for economic development.
Grays Harbor, Bellingham and Bremerton - all communities where colleges are building partnerships with private industry - are among the 28 other applicants for the designation, said Linda Rotmark, director of the Clallam County Economic Development Council.
Battelle, which employs about 90 people and holds an annual $20 million in research contracts, has had labs off West Sequim Bay Road for three decades.
The facility conducts all manner of research projects, from studies of mollusks that could detect a bioterrorist attack to lethally low oxygen levels in Hood Canal.
"We have this bird-in-the-hand opportunity," Rotmark said, to build on Battelle's operations, create well-paying jobs and attract inventors and other scientists.
But in order to expand, Battelle needs water and sewer service from Sequim.
That $1 million state grant would help the company pay for connections to those utility lines, said the labs' operations manager, Van Briggs.
If Battelle and Peninsula College don't win the grant this year, they still could be designated innovation partners who are eligible for state money next year, Rotmark added.
This is only the first round of grant-making.
Battelle, an international company with $3.8 billion in research and development contracts, runs the Sequim facility for the federal Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, or PNNL, based in Richland.
The labs opened in 1967 on the site of the former Bugge clam cannery.
Since then, Battelle has put structures on only 7 of its 140 acres of tidelands, flats and hillsides, said Marine Research Operations director Richard Ecker.
But PNNL's master plan, Ecker said, has ambitious goals for the Sequim lab.
It wants to expand the staff to 225 and the volume of research contracts to $65 million.
For Peninsula College, a partnership with Battelle means myriad opportunities.
"Students would be able to work with and be mentored by Battelle scientists," Keegan said.
"They would be doing research projects and getting formal and informal instruction.
"The students get hands-on experience and access to state-of-the-art [labs], and Battelle gets some brilliant students who are eager to learn and innovate."
The college is seeking the partnership zone designation along with both Battelle and the Economic Development Council.
The three entities can work together to train local entrepreneurs and deliver locally generated products to market, Keegan said.
The state designation could also help Battelle recruit businesses that can use its research and development facilities, Rotmark said.
At the same time, "we need to have a commercialization plan with the college, to protect intellectual property on the Peninsula," she said.
In the past, scientists at Battelle have developed new technologies - and taken them back to Richland's PNNL headquarters.
Together, the college, Battelle and the EDC can nurture - and keep - inventors and other entrepreneurs, Rotmark said.
"Once it's gotten going," added Keegan, the three-way partnership "creates this great energy. We don't know where it will go."
Sequim Editor Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-681-2391 or firstname.lastname@example.org.