Visions of turning a rural elk farm in Pine Island into a mecca for bioscience jobs may finally be moving forward. In the form of pigs.
The Minneapolis biotech firm Recombinetics signed a letter of intent to explore building a $2.2 million facility that would house 50 to 100 female pigs at the Elk Run development 15 miles north of Rochester. Recombinetics genetically engineers animals for biomedical and agricultural purposes.
Lining up a potential tenant is a big step for Elk Run, a project riddled with delays ever since the idea was brought up four years ago. There are no buildings on the site yet, and officials have blamed a weak economy for many of the problems.
"Good things come to those who wait. Patience is a virtue," said Abraham Algadi, Pine Island's city administrator. "We have incredible faith in the partnerships that we have built. We're not backing down despite the dismal economic environment that we work in," he said on Monday.
Recombinetics, which has four employees, is the first potential tenant to reveal its intentions at Elk Run. The company said it plans to use the facility to genetically improve pigs to become more accurate models for diabetes and cardiovascular disease research. The pigs also can be used for biomedical product development such as heart valves.
CEO Scott Fahrenkrug said he looked at other locations, but the rent was too expensive. Fahrenkrug said he likes Elk Run's proximity to the Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota.
"As long as things are moving in a positive trajectory [at Elk Run], we're going to continue to work with them," Fahrenkrug said.
Fahrenkrug said he is working with organizations that are committed to raising half of the construction price in the form of low-interest loans.
When the facility will be built is unclear. Also uncertain is when developer Tower Investments will construct an additional proposed 50,400-square-foot building. The building, which was once expected to open in August, hasn't been constructed yet. Tower was recently given an extension until February to start construction.
The goal is for at least 20 people to be working in bioscience jobs at Elk Run by the end of next year.
Geoff Griffin, Elk Run's project manager, said in an e-mail that the plans for that building are not impacted by Recombinetics. He did not respond to follow-up questions.
Terry Ward, manager of the Minnesota Department of Transportation's Elk Run Interchange Project, said his department will evaluate what Recombinetic's letter of intent means. MnDOT has not authorized the construction of four frontage roads connecting Elk Run with a new Hwy. 52 interchange because it is waiting for Tower to fulfill certain goals.
"We need to see exactly what that means, in terms of physical buildings, in terms of jobs," Ward said of the letter.
Wendy Lee • 612-673-1712