SARANAC LAKE - U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand toured Myriad RBM's new location here during a three-stop swing through the North Country Friday.
She called the biotech company, which was started by a handful of former employees of Upstate Biotechnology in Lake Placid and has grown to 24 workers, "an amazing success story." Myriad outgrew its site in Lake Placid and recently relocated to the former Saranac Lake village offices on Main Street, which the village spent more than $700,000 renovating.
"They're hiring employees," Gillibrand told the media after the tour. "They've taken a business model of developing expertise in biotechnology, which is able to develop more growth because of other biotech businesses in the region. It's formed a cluster that allows for collaboration and innovation and growth. It's very exciting for the region."
U.S. Sen Kirsten Gillibrand, right, talks with an employee of Myriad RBM during a tour of the Saranac Lake biotech business on Friday.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
The senator arrived in front of the building in a red sport-utility vehicle just after 9:30 a.m. She was welcomed by village Mayor Clyde Rabideau, village Trustees Tom Catillaz, Barbara Rice and Paul Van Cott, Harrietstown Councilwoman Nichole Meyette and Laurie Stephen, Myriad's director of assay development.
Stephen led Gillibrand and the rest, with reporters in tow, on a tour of Myriad's operations. The company develops and manufactures testing kits for use in biological or medical research, and for companies involved in drug discovery and development.
Gillibrand asked Stephen about Myriad's plans for growth and expansion, and how it recruits its employees. She also asked Rabideau about the village's efforts to build a cluster of biotech endeavors here. He explained how another company, Active Motif, plans to locate down the block in the village's former Water Department building later this year.
"Then we already have Trudeau Institute and Bionique, and that creates a cluster," Rabideau said. "Before, we were just talking about a vision; now we can show them a cluster right here in downtown Saranac Lake. We have another company in another state we'd like to bring here, and this will help us."
On the building's second floor, home to Myriad's research and development labs, Gillibrand talked with several of the company's employees. She asked what they were working on, how long they've been employed by Myriad and where they went to school.
"All the employees I talked to, they all love living here; they love working here," Gillibrand said later. "There's a high quality of life and high employee satisfaction. I don't think you can improve on it."
Asked what she could do to help grow Saranac Lake's biotech cluster, Gillibrand said she's working on several bills that would spur growth in entrepreneurialism and innovation, including a grant program designed to help commercialize scientific breakthroughs. She noted that many scientists use the term "Death Valley" to describe the funding gap between making a research breakthrough and bringing it to market.
"So we have a bill that we're hoping to move between now and the end of the year that could allow for significant grants," Gillibrand said. "We want to put $200 million into this fund for people to apply for grants for this interim-stage research and development. And this company could definitely benefit from that bill."
Gillibrand also said she supports investing in basic research through the National Institutes of Health, which has been a major source of funding to scientists at Trudeau Institute.
Stephen said it was exciting to have Gillibrand visit the company. She said the senator was very down-to-earth and friendly during the tour.
"We're so fortunate," Stephen said. "We've been working with some of the local people to really improve biotech in the area. This just brings more attention and more recognition to the area, and that helps us to continue."
"What we're doing here is very unique, and it's very exciting, and obviously the senator is tremendously interested in it, so it sure as heck can't hurt," Rabideau said.
Gillibrand was scheduled to make two other stops in the North Country Friday. From Saranac Lake, she was headed to Plattsburgh for a roundtable discussion on cross-border commerce, followed by a stop at Clarkson University in Potsdam, where she planned to formally announce her bill that's designed to help scientists and researchers market their discoveries better.
Before leaving Saranac Lake, Gillibrand talked about her family's vacation this week in the Adirondacks. She said she took her two boys, ages 4 and 8, camping on an island in Lake George.
"This was the most exciting night of their life," she said. "They had more fun than I can possibly tell you. I took them swimming in the lake five times in one day."
Gillibrand said she and her husband spent last night, and will be staying again tonight, at a friend's home on Upper St. Regis Lake near Paul Smiths. She said she went water-skiing on the lake Thursday and got up on her first try, though she thinks she might have pulled a muscle in her leg. She said she also tried stand-up paddleboarding Friday morning.
She has noted in the past that when she was a girl, she and her family used to spend vacations in the Lake Placid area.
"It's so beautiful up here," Gillibrand said. "I love the North Country - always have, always will. It's a great place to retire someday."
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.