The Athens Review
It’s only in retrospect that we can see who really had vision.
Steve Barksdale, a former Chairman at Biotech Manufacturing Center, addressed the Athens Kiwanis Club on Tuesday, giving a history lesson about the center and projecting its future impact. In December, the heads of economic development for Louisiana Tech University and Louisiana State University toured the facility.
“The first thing they said resonated in my ears for a long time,” Barksdale said. “I asked point-blank what they thought. They said, ‘Can’t believe the vision a town this small has had in doing this project. This is unbelievable.’”
Barksdale said the Biotech grew out of seeds planted by Athens leaders searching for answers when the city lost a major manufacturer that employed about 1,200 people in the late 1980s.
“The forefathers of this town began to research and ask, ‘How can we come out of this? How can we survive,’” Barksdale said.
City leaders contacted Texas A&M University and the Texas Engineering Extension Department. The city commissioned a feasibility study to get ideas about what the city needed to grow.
“In 1990, they discovered that we had some neat characteristics already within our city,” Barksdale said. “We had Argon Medical and opportunities for some more medical devices.”
When the Athens Industrial Park was created, it provided a catalyst for new businesses.
“We’ve had many things come into the Industrial Park,” Barksdale said. “The place where the Biotech Manufacturing Center is located was really designed to be a fishing-lure bag manufacturing company. That company was the start of Dallas Manufacturing.”
Soon, a medical device serialization plant was located in the park, which opened the door for more medical-device-related businesses.
“A sterilization company in the medical device industry is a very important facet,” Barksdale.
BMC fits into the mix as a locally-owned, non-profit facility that helps incubator companies in the medical field get new products to market. Barksdale describes an incubator company as one with some great ideas that needs some help in getting its product to the market.
With the support of local leaders, BMC opened its doors in 2005. Biotech, which now has 22 employees, can help with manufacturing, building prototypes and aiding clients in acquiring funding for their projects.
“We can try to get you funding by using some of the contacts we’ve gotten through the state and through other entities, and we can get you there quicker than you can do it on your own,” Barksdale said.