Growing Our Future In The Wiregrass

By: Neil Lamb, PhD. President of HudsonAlpha

The City of Dothan, Mayor Mark Saliba, and the Dothan City Commissioners recently said yes to building a new economy based on scientific discovery, innovation and education. In doing so, they said yes to future opportunities, yes to a better quality of life, yes to better jobs for local young people, and yes to an official partnership with the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.

HudsonAlpha is thrilled to expand our footprint beyond Huntsville and into Dothan and the Wiregrass to launch HudsonAlpha Wiregrass. Opened in 2008, we are a nonprofit institute dedicated to developing and applying scientific advances to health, agriculture, learning, and commercialization.  Or, as I often say, using the power of DNA to help solve some of society’s most pressing challenges in human health and plant science. 

Our founders, Jim Hudson and Lonnie McMillian, envisioned a place where scientists, researchers, educators, and entrepreneurs would all work together to improve the human condition around the globe.  Over the past 15 years, our efforts have made a substantial impact. The HudsonAlpha team has added $3.2 billion to the Alabama economy, secured more than $300 million in federal grants, authored more than 1,000 peer-reviewed publications, helped sequence more than one-half of all plant genomics in the public record, recruited more than 50 biotechnology companies to locate on our campus, and reached more than 5.5 million people with educational programs.  We are excited to bring this track record of success to the Wiregrass region.

HudsonAlpha Wiregrass is a public-private collaboration between HudsonAlpha and the City of Dothan, that will extend HudsonAlpha’s agricultural focus into the Wiregrass region. Activities at HudsonAlpha Wiregrass will center around three specific areas: research, education, and innovation.

Research: HudsonAlpha Wiregrass will use the power of genomics to develop more drought-and disease-resistant peanut varieties and other agriculturally important crops in the Wiregrass region.  We will work with local farmers, schools, breeders, and others to pursue scientific  breakthroughs in food, fuel, feed, and fiber production.  These genomic projects will engage local high schools in a “first of its kind” research/education collaboration.

Education: HudsonAlpha Wiregrass will partner with K-12 and higher education institutions to build a robust STEM workforce pipeline through educator professional learning workshops, student experiences, and internships.  Townhalls, seminars, and science nights will introduce genomic concepts and technologies to the wider community.

Innovation: HudsonAlpha Wiregrass will work closely with regional leaders to recruit ag-tech companies and foster an ecosystem for entrepreneurs and small businesses, strengthening and diversifying the area’s economy. HudsonAlpha’s economic development team will utilize a collaborative approach to identify areas of promise within the ag-tech field, implement strategies to build partnerships with existing companies and startup ventures, and emphasize the overall advantage to doing business in the region.

The City of Dothan’s investment will allow us to implement the programs, personnel, and research necessary to achieve these goals across a 5 year timeframe. Regular progress reports, together with a local HudsonAlpha Community Engagement Committee will help build collaboration, communication, transparency, and continuous improvement as the initiative takes shape.

I have had numerous opportunities to be in Dothan this past year to meet and talk with elected officials, community leaders, businesses, educators, farmers, and many others about this unique opportunity.  Every time, I have been heartened by the excitement, can-do-attitude, community pride, and love for Dothan and the Wiregrass region.  We are at the germination phase of a transformative partnership, one that will place the promise of DNA and emerging technologies into the hands of Wiregrass farmers, students, and entrepreneurs.  This partnership will not be based in the traditional biotech settings of the East Coast, West Coast, or a research university.  It will live here, in the middle of Alabama’s Wiregrass, where ideas sprout, take root and flourish. 

When I first met Mayor Saliba, he told me “Dothan is the right place, right people, and the right time for a partnership with HudsonAlpha.”  He was absolutely right. Together, our teams can and will do the work of growing our future in the Wiregrass.

Dr. Neil E. Lamb is the President of HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology.