Economic development officials in League City hope to use a developing medical hub to help recruit biotech startup companies and medical suppliers.

The hub consists of University of Texas Medical Branch, MD Anderson and Memorial Hermann hospital facilities clustered in League City.

Tom Linklater, co-chair of the League City Comprehensive Master Plan Task Force, likes to call it a medical village.

“Health care is our No. 1 target,” Linklater said.

With rising rents, some businesses and offices that surround the Texas Medical Center in Houston might have to move, League City Regional Chamber of Commerce President Steve Paterson said. And he wants them to move to League City.

“It might make sense to relocate here,” Paterson said. “It’s 20 minutes to TMC, 20 minutes to UTMB.”

He envisions a mini-version of the Texas Medical Center with research labs that attract the best and brightest to League City.

While having a casual conversation over cocktails at the beginning of the year, Linklater heard about phenomenal biotech startups from people who worked at a high-tech incubator that Johnson & Johnson Innovation opened in Houston last year.

The futuristic and optimistic incubator, called “JLABS @ TMC,” is a 34,000-square-foot space in which life sciences entrepreneurs share lab space, private offices, state-of-the-art equipment and business services. The facility can accommodate up to 50 startups.

“It is absolutely amazing,” Linklater said.

More than one idea started brewing for League City business leaders. What if League City had a biotech incubator? Or what if companies that get started at JLABS want to leave when they grow bigger?

“It’s a no-brainer,” Linklater said. “We should be pursuing that very rigorously.”

An appealing aspect of companies using Johnson & Johnson’s lab is they have already been vetted, city staff members said.

Scott Livingston, the city’s director of economic development, said he would like the city to be poised to attract these new and emerging technology medical startups.

“We’re looking for creative ways to attract them,” Livingston said at the task force’s Jan. 6 meeting.

In May, Paterson and Mayor Pat Hallisey attended the International Council of Shopping Centers commercial real estate trade show in Las Vegas. When the two introduced themselves as being from League City, they were surprised that so many attending the trade show already knew where it was, Paterson said.

“On the plane on the way home, I thought about it,” Paterson said. “We are wide open for development.”

While the city needs commercial development to help shift the 85 percent tax burden off the shoulders of residential property owners, which includes apartment complex owners, Paterson and Linklater said they would prefer those developments be high-tech and ideally related to the medical industry.

Members of the task force, which is a joint effort between the chamber and the city, learned this fall that University of Texas Medical Branch’s closest medical supplier was in Pasadena.

They invited representatives from area hospitals to join the task force and learned the medical community did indeed have needs that League City might fill.

That also brought the tip that some businesses might be looking to move out of Texas Medical Center because of rising rents.

Katy-based Brewer Construction specializes in building research labs and has built facilities in residential areas of several Houston suburbs such as The Woodlands. Paterson said he would like to see Brewer build some facilities in League City.

“This could happen,” he said.

First, however, the city needs a more efficient zoning process, and planners need to consider now whether the city needs an overlay district or some other mechanism to allow and encourage the medical industry to boom in League City, Paterson said.

All the possibilities deserve consideration, but it’s too soon to say what are the best options, Linklater said.

But the germ of the idea is in place.

“It’s so embryonic,” he said.

Valerie Wells is a reporter at The Daily News and can be reached at 409-683-5246 or valerie.wells@galvnews.com.

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