Creating a biofab hub in Manchester has to be a community effort, Kamen says

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Dean Kamen
Dean Kamen, right, is all in for making Manchester the hub of biomanufacturing but said he’s worried the community is not rising to the level of commitment needed to transform the city’s future. Photo/Carol Robidoux

MANCHESTER, NH – The city is on the cusp of becoming a bio fabrication epicenter, but only if the community gets behind the effort, Dean Kamen told those gathered for a community update Thursday.

Kamen’s Advanced Regenerative Manufacturing Institute’s BioFabFoundries is leading the effort, which was awarded a $44 million Build Back Better grant last fall. The grant is funding a biofabrication cluster that includes business acceleration, community partnerships, a logistics network, and more. The aim is to establish the region as a global epicenter for the production, workforce, and distribution of regenerative tissues and organs. It’s expected to create 7,000 direct jobs, and 40,000 indirect jobs.

“It’s not about one company, or a couple of companies,” Kamen told the crowd gathered under a tent at Arms parking lot Thursday for an update on the effort. It’s about the entire community rallying behind the effort to make the city to bio fabrication and related industries what it once was to textile manufacturing, he said.

He said the U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Economic Development Administration have risen to the challenge, going beyond the grant award. “I’m worried the local community won’t rally as fast,” Kamen said. He said if the community doesn’t realize the scope of the opportunity and help move it forward, “it will be a massive opportunity lost.”

“History makes us all very smart,” Kamen said. Manchester and the region has a chance to write the next chapter of its history, for better or worse. Seizing the opportunity means putting focus and energy into running with what is being offered.

“If we’re not willing to make that loud, to make that clear, shame on us,” he said.

Thursday’s event was part of a three-day Meeting in the Millyard conference sponsored by ARMI on trends, challenges, and opportunities in the biomanufacturing industry. The grant, awarded in September, builds on ARMI’s BioFab Foundries, which develops cell and tissue cultures with advances in biofabrication, automation, robotics, and analytical technologies. 

Kamen said that biofabrication will change the healthcare world, where most of the effort is in chronic care. Regenerative tissue would mean that type of chronic care, for instance kidney dialysis, wouldn’t be necessary.

“People who live here ought to recognize what’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s going to change health care.” 

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Stephen Thiel, with microphone, Assistant Vice President of Social Impact & Community Relations, and Mike Decelle, right, of UNH Manchester, during June 8, 2023, community update on ARMI’s bio-fabrication initiative. Photo/Carol Robidoux

Kamen cited Detroit as an automobile manufacturing hub and Silicon Valley and the computer revolution as examples of how an industry can transform a region. He also pointed out Manchester’s history of textile manufacturing, at one time home to the largest textile manufacturing center in the world. 

The mills, which once stretched a mile along the Merrimack River, put Manchester on the map before largely shutting down in the mid-20th century. Jodie Nazaka, the city’s economic development director, said, “There’s no reason we can’t be on the map again” as the center of biofabrication and related technology.

Those involved in the effort said Thursday that the grant is already resulting in action.

By next summer, ARMI expects to be “deep in construction,” Maureen Toohey, ARMI deputy executive director, said.

The nonprofit, founded in 2016, recently bought 150 Dow St., in the Millyard, where it will convert 100,000 square feet of the space for biofabrication manufacturing and training. BioFab also has 25,000 square feet nearby, at 540 North Commercial St. United Therapeutics, a partner of ARMI, is moving into 100 Commercial St., where it will occupy 80,000 square feet.

But Kamen and other speakers yesterday said that more entrepreneurs and businesses, as well as the infrastructure necessary to support the industry, must also join the effort.

Progress made since the grant was awarded means that a lot of aspects of the effort are ready to launch and others are underway, Mike Decelle, Dean of UNH Manchester and ARMI chief workforce officer, said. 

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Keith Mercier of Manchester attended the event as a local entrepreneur interested in the future opportunities associated with the development of biofabrication. Photo/Carol Robidoux

“It’s just incredible how the community has moved forward,” he said.

Part of that includes BioFab’s BioTrek program for high school students. The program focuses on engagement with advanced technologies, familiarization with the principles of entrepreneurship and exposure to education and career pathways leading to the manufacturing sector. It uses a student-led, design-thinking approach.

The program has trained more than 1,000 students, and there are commitments from 18 schools. The effort is going on the road to “meet the students where they are,” officials said Thursday.

Increasing the workforce means more housing, and attendee Keith Mercier, of Manchester, asked Nazaka how the area, already in a housing crisis would accommodate the workers the new technology hub would bring.

“We’re doing everything we can to provide more housing opportunities in the city of Manchester,” Nazaka said. She said that effort will remain a focus, but also some of that workforce would come from the area.


About this Author

Maureen Milliken

Maureen Milliken is a contract reporter and content producer for consumer financial agencies. She has worked for northern New England publications, including the New Hampshire Union Leader, for 25 years, and most recently at Mainebiz in Portland, Maine. She can be found on LinkedIn and Twitter.