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Tyler Staab’s Poster Helps Bring Coqui to County

Tyler Staab’s Poster Helps Bring Coqui to County

Many people played a role in the decision to build a $250 million medical isotope manufacturing plant in the city of Alachua, but the most unusual one was Tyler Staab.

Carmen Irene Bigles mentions Tyler first when talking about why her company, Coquí RadioPharmaceuticals Corp., chose Alachua for the new facility it plans to begin building within the next few years — if it gets all the appropriate regulatory approvals.

What won over Bigles was a poster about the benefits of medical isotopes that Tyler’s father, Rick Staab, had displayed in his Progress Corporate Park office.

Rick Staab had hosted a visit from Coquí officials in 2012 because of the natural connection between the company and one of Staab’s businesses, Intermed Nuclear Medicine. A robust supply of medical isotopes for hospitals and clinics is needed for the nuclear imaging equipment his company provides.

Tyler’s poster focused on medical isotopes because of his own medical challenges, Rick Staab said.

“When I saw the poster, I felt there was fantastic synergy between us and Alachua,” Bigles said. “I instinctively knew that it was the right place to be.”

 

Carmen Irene Bigles speaks about the plans of Coqui RadioPharmaceuticals Corp. to build a $250 million plant in Alachua.
Carmen Irene Bigles speaks about the plans of Coqui RadioPharmaceuticals Corp. to build a $250 million plant in Alachua.

Continuing History of Providing Land

Staab’s welcome was just one part of the red carpet local business and government leaders have rolled out for Coquí. The hospitality began when Coquí officials first visited the area in 2010 at the suggestion of the company’s site selection consultant.

Enterprise Florida set up the first local visit, and the Council for Economic Outreach of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce coordinated the trip.

A key selling point was that land for the facility was available in 280 acres of undeveloped area adjacent to Progress Corporate Park, all owned by the University of Florida Foundation.

Making the property available as a new business and research park — one that would be larger than Progress Corporate Park — continues the foundation’s long history of providing land for new companies, said Bruce DeLaney, the foundation’s director of real estate.

That history began when the foundation bought 2,200 acres in Alachua for $4.2 million in the early 1980s to create a research park. When DeLaney joined the foundation in 1984, then-president of UF, Robert Marston, instructed him on his role.

“Dr. Marston said, ‘A healthy economy in Alachua County is good for the University of Florida,’” DeLaney recalled.

DeLaney’s first step in following that instruction was planning the groundbreaking for what is now known as Progress Corporate Park.

“I remember going out there and seeing the old tobacco barn, the only building on the property, being torn down,” he said.

The land has reaped an abundance of economic benefits in the years since. Progress Corporate Park now totals 590,000 square feet of space and the companies located there employ 1,200 people, according to leasing agent Sandy Burgess of Front Street Commercial Real Estate Group.

Coquí’s interest in moving to Alachua County prompted DeLaney to seek zoning for a corporate park on the undeveloped 280 acres of the remaining foundation land. The new designation was finalized in 2013.

“The diverse jobs that have been added help UF move toward preeminence,” DeLaney said. “When the university is recruiting faculty, generally their spouses are no slouch, and being able to provide a job for the spouse can be the clincher.”

The addition of Coquí provides another economic benefit.

“It’s a for-profit company, and it will be paying taxes,” DeLaney said.

Land Is Key To Regulators

Coquí faces a catch-22 — it only needs the land if it obtains all the necessary approvals to build the facility.

Delaney has provided a solution. The UF Foundation is donating 25 acres to Coquí on the condition that if the deal falls through, the property will go back to the foundation.

In exchange for the land, Coquí has agreed to extend Progress Boulevard 2,600 feet, which will open up the remaining foundation acreage for development.

With the land available, Bigles still has much on her plate, including obtaining all necessary regulatory approvals and completing the design of the building.

“There’s so much to do,” she said. “I’m doing what I need to do one day at a time. I have faith that we will be successful because our heart is in the right place, and we have a passionate team behind us.”

Nuclear Isotope Production Faces Challenges

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Carmen Irene Bigles became interested in producing nuclear isotopes when the oncology center she operates in Puerto Rico had difficulty obtaining the quantity it needed to operate properly.

“I realized that there was a worldwide crisis in producing nuclear isotopes,” she said. “Then, I learned of a proven technology that could help.”

The supply crisis arose because the handful of plants around the world that produce medical isotopes are aging and occasionally shut down. The U.S. depends on foreign supplies for critical medical isotopes, and some of the foreign suppliers are scheduled to close within the next five years, Bigles said.

No large-scale plant producing the isotopes has ever been built in the United States because the strong federal regulations of facilities used to manufacture them is cost-prohibitive, according to nti.org, a website of the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

The isotopes are injected into the human body both to assess ailments such as heart disease, cancer and thyroid disease and to study brain and kidney functions.

The most widely used medical isotopes Coquí plans to generate are unusual in that they are only active for a matter of hours – measured in half-life. The short life span makes them appropriate for medical testing since they stay active in patients for a limited time, which reduces overall radiation exposure.

Bigles believes maintaining an adequate supply of the isotopes is important because more than 30 million procedures using them are conducted annually worldwide — and more than half are conducted in the U.S.

The new technology Bigles became aware of uses low-enriched uranium instead of highly enriched uranium to produce the isotopes, which greatly increases production safety and eliminates the possibility that the fuel could be used for terrorism.

The City of Alachua is fortunate to be able to provide a home for Coquí, said Assistant City Manager Adam Boukari.

“The company is addressing a major issue for America, and it plans to do it right here in Alachua,” he said.

The City of Alachua is fortunate to be able to provide a home for Coquí, said Assistant City Manager Adam Boukari.

“The company is addressing a major issue for America, and it plans to do it right here in Alachua,” he said.

 

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