The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology Is Coming To The Wiregrass

Did you know that there's a $3 billion industry coming to Dothan and the Wiregrass area very soon? In this episode of “Home Grown,” I’m going to tell you all about the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology and their plans for the Wiregrass. We’ll talk with Dr. Neil Lamb, president of HudsonAlpha, to learn how they aim to solve difficult human problems through biotechnology.

Meet Dr. Neil Lamb

The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology has been able to generate and contribute more than $3 billion to the state of Alabama's economy since 2006. They've created over 2,300 jobs and recruited over 45 different biotech companies to their Huntsville campus.

I had the honor of meeting with Dr. Neil Lamb, president of HudsonAlpha, to discuss their plans here in the Wiregrass—which include focusing on education, agricultural research, and further economic development. Dr. Lamb has been with the Institute for about 16 years, starting when the building was still a hole in the ground.

He led the education program for 15 years and recently transitioned to become the president of the Institute for Education.

HudsonAlpha’s Mission

According to Dr. Lamb, HudsonAlpha’s mission is all about how to solve difficult human problems using the power of biotechnology and genomics—or the study of DNA. Three key mission areas focus on this research.

First, how do they better understand the impact of changes in DNA on human health, agriculture, and crop sustainability? Second, how do they take ideas and turn those into products that companies can use? And third, how do they build an ecosystem that lets people with ideas form a company and grow it company over the years as it becomes more and more successful?

The Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

When building an entrepreneurial ecosystem, both the research and the ecosystem of new companies need two things. First, it needs somebody that can actually work in those fields. HudsonAlpha aims to train the next generation of scientific or biotech workers, people who understand what this is and are interested in why research and products are important.

Another big part of what they do in education is to create a more genomically aware society and answer questions about DNA. It’s a big mission that includes a mouthful of terms and a lot of big science. However, at the end of the day, Dr. Lamb says they are all about how to unlock the power of DNA to make the world a better place and train the next generation of workers.

The Peanut Capital Of The World

So why has HudsonAlpha chosen Dothan and the Wiregrass area? For one, Dothan is the peanut capital of the world. The area has a huge history with peanuts and agriculture in general. Much of the work that HudsonAlpha is doing—in addition to human health work—is expanding their agriculture work.

This work includes thinking about how they can use what they understand about DNA and genetics and apply it to crops. For example, some crops can thrive under challenging climate conditions or allow for more growth on less and less land. They’ve been looking for communities that are excited about bringing the power of what HudsonAlpha has to offer into their spaces.

These are places where they can do genomic research, help grow new companies, build out the economy, create more genomically aware citizens, and help train students for tomorrow. Dothan fits every single one of those pieces.

Growing In Dothan

Dr. Lamb notes that the community and leaders have been so incredibly welcoming, all working in the same direction to increase the value of the community and make a better life for the people that live here. This makes Dothan a natural match for HudsonAlpha’s second location—which is fantastic news for our community.

The agreement starts with an initial five-year window. During this time, HudsonAlpha brings a laboratory that does genomic research on crops along with ideas to help birth and grow new companies. They’ll then implement a whole set of education programs. Over the first year in 2023, you'll begin to see them lay the groundwork.

All of the different teams from HudsonAlpha have been in the Wiregrass already, talking to teachers, stakeholders, and other groups while looking for lab spaces. 2023 will really be about beginning to put those initial programs in place. This includes having students grow peanuts and analyze DNA from those peanuts, working with stakeholders to identify ideas for companies, and building relationships with educators and in classrooms.

The Wiregrass Innovation Center

In the second, third, and fourth years, Dothan citizens will see the connection between all of those things begin to take off. Dr. Lamb and his team are working with the city to identify a space that will become the Wiregrass Innovation Center, in which HudsonAlpha will be an anchor tenant.

This will be a place where all kinds of groups come together with new ideas for innovation—and not just around genomics. Dr. Lamb thinks people will begin to see that a little further down the road. When that happens, they’ll offer things like field trips, summer camps, and much more.

Five years is the starting window, with an idea towards a more permanent presence after that. It’s very exciting to know what's coming in the future and have all of these kids learning. We’ll have plenty of future scientists growing right here in Dothan—the future George Washington Carvers of the world.

Getting Involved

Locals in the Dothan and Wiregrass area can get involved and show their support in a few ways. HudsonAlpha is on all the social media channels @HudsonAlphaWiregrass. This is a great way to get a sense of what's going on and what's taking place.

There are also web pages to talk about what we're doing for HudsonAlpha Wiregrass. Dr. Lamb says they’ll be hosting a whole series of community engagement discussions to answer people’s questions. For example, what is biotechnology? How does that apply in agriculture? What is HudsonAlpha doing? What are they working on with schools and with companies?

There'll be multiple opportunities for the community to get involved and to look for ways that they can plug in as plans go forward. Be sure to stay tuned to their website and social media channels to get the latest information.

An Exciting Partnership

Having HudsonAlpha in the Wiregrass is very exciting. Historically, if someone wanted to work in genomics and genetics, they’d have to be in a big city that has a large university or an academic medical center. Today, technology means you can do this almost anywhere. Dr. Lamb is really excited to partner with the people of Dothan and the broader Wiregrass to make this a reality.

Thank you so much for staying tuned to another episode of “Home Grown,” my show all about living in Dothan and the Wiregrass area.  Make sure to subscribe so you never miss a future video, and feel free to reach out if you have any questions about Dothan or the Wiregrass area. Stay tuned to see what I feature next!