Madison County hopes to create medical hub

The Mississippi Biomedical Business Collaboratory in Canton enables like-minded companies to share knowledge, resources.

Madison County economic development officials had to cope for years with the sting of losing in 2008 a $450 million Department of Homeland Security research lab for which Flora was among a group of finalist cities.

But Tim Coursey, executive director of the county Economic Development Authority, said the experience of competing for that facility – Manhattan, Kansas was ultimately chosen – convinced him Madison County had the technology and the know-how to support a top-notch research facility. He says such a place is taking shape in Canton.

The Mississippi Biomedical Business Collaboratory recently opened in a building on Watford Parkway Drive that was once used as a training center for Nissan Canton employees.

The building will be home to a number of businesses specializing in different aspects of medicine, from computer software to patient-treatment equipment, that can not only share knowledge but refer clients to one another to help each other grow. At least one business operates there now, and several others have verbally committed to locating there.

“It’s a great vision. There’s nothing else like it in Mississippi,” Coursey said. Some 60,000 square feet of space is available and can host up to roughly a dozen or so businesses.

Dr. David Powe, CEO of Collaboratory tenant Telehealth One, describes the facility as something “between an incubator and an accelerator” in that the companies themselves might be new but often feature employees with years of experience in their fields. As companies grow to the point that they could build their own freestanding locations, other firms would replace them at the Collaboratory.

A model, albeit on a much larger scale, for the Collaboratory is Texas Medical Center in Houston. That complex features a number of buildings and businesses on about 800 acres of land. The firms each have a specific focus, such as stem-cell research or healthcare policy, but collaborate in ways that benefit each group.

Telehealth One provides services designed to electronically link patients, school systems and other institutions, particularly in rural areas, with doctors and other medical professionals in metro Jackson for more cost-effective healthcare. Powe envisions working with a company providing medical-specific information technology and other such services in the Collaboratory.

“This would bring together companies that can enhance each other’s work,” he said. “Telehealth, through the use of technology, can reach a lot of people.”

Canton’s easy access from Interstate 55 to Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport and the metro area’s network of hospitals and clinics could position the Collaboratory to achieve success.

Coursey said county officials remained determined to make a breakthrough in some form of scientific research after coming so close to landing the Homeland Security lab. They found a specific direction through Gov. Phil Bryant’s support of “healthcare zones,” clusters of land along major roadways statewide where medical-services companies could locate and receive tax breaks and other incentives on things like buying equipment.

The Canton area has qualified as a healthcare zone.

The county already had an ideal building, which housed the Nissan training center and is partly occupied by a WIN Jobs Center. “It’s in great shape. It’s very flexible. You’re indoors, so you can do build-out,” Coursey said.

In addition to hosting medical-services companies, the Collaboratory also will be used for training in which doctors, nurses and first responders can receive certifications in particular skills using, Coursey says, “real operating rooms, fully equipped.”

Originally published in The Clarion-Ledger on January 8, 2015