Interview with Jimmy Magro, director of Life Sciences Park

Malta’s Life Sciences Park is set to be completed in 2015, and will provide state-of-the-art laboratory space and high-tech accommodation to facilitate the growth of the bio and life sciences industry in self-contained buildings. Malta Enterprise’s Jimmy Magro is overseeing and directing the park’s development. He met with The Report Company to discuss the progress so far.

The Report Company: Can you give us an overview of the project and how far along it is?

Jimmy Magro: The project is partly financed by the European Union. It has gone through a series of redesigns and the last design of the project was to incorporate four buildings. We have LS1 and LS2 which were always the backbone of the Life Sciences Park project. This is where we’ve got the laboratories. So far we have ground zero completely finished.

As for the other levels, there is flexibility so when the tenants are coming they can design the internal structures as they wish them. This gives us the opportunity to rent out different sizes for the tenants because each company might have different demands. Malta Enterprise is already in discussion with a group of entrepreneurs that would like to have 1,000 square metres, but other group might want 800, so the internal partitioning has been designed in such a way that it can be flexible. Then there will be a discussion as to whether the cost of finishing the laboratory will be done by Malta Enterprise or by the entrepreneurs. If it is done by Malta Enterprise, this will be computed into the rent. It has to be a sustainable proposition.

Then we have the third building which has now been identified as the digital hub. This is mainly dealing with IT, media and technology innovation and it is about 2,000 square metres. This will be completely finished. It’s a turnkey project; the tenants will not have to make any investment. It’s only the IT hardware that they will have to bring in.

In the fourth building, which was intended in the last design to have just an auditorium and conference hall, we will have the childcare facility, because this is becoming compulsory now in Malta to encourage woman to come into the workforce. There are fiscal and infrastructural incentives to do so. We want more women to be engaged in industry and in the economy.

TRC: How many agreements have been made with tenants?

JM: We are currently holding discussions between Malta Enterprise and the group which is taking over this building. We have nearly finalised now the agreement. When you are renting out or leasing this type of property it has to go through various stages. Because it is government property, the process is slightly longer. We believe that before July 2014 the parliament will approve the project.

TRC: What is the timeframe for the project?

JM: Life Sciences 1 and 2 will be completed around the first quarter of 2015. We can still put tenants in before then, and there are already various projects being discussed and various contacts already being explored to be housed in the Life Sciences Park.

We are considering setting up an operational arm for the operation of the Life Sciences Park. Malta Enterprise will be in charge of holding the discussions between prospective tenants to liaise between clients.
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TRC: Once the Life Sciences Park is established, what will be the role of Malta Enterprise?

JM: We need an operation that will handle the infrastructure. The park has a complex system of energy control and security, and somebody needs to be on site to supervise the work. We are considering setting up an operational arm for the operation of the Life Sciences Park. Malta Enterprise will be in charge of holding the discussions between prospective tenants to liaise between clients. The idea is to have an operating unit on its own.

TRC: What are the key segments for prospective clients?

JM: The main targets would be in the field of oncology for example, stem cells and then also in blood and IVF. These are the sorts of fields we would like but of course given the small size of Malta it would not be ideal to specialise in just one certain thing.

In the original plans there has always been a reference to the links between the University of Malta, the Life Sciences Park and the hospital, so there might be some companies which are operating in the engineering or medical instrumentation field which are interested in a presence at the park. We are not looking at only the medical or life sciences area but also at the related fields. It needs to be a fully-fledged cluster, not only limited to one type of science.

TRC: To what extent is the Life Sciences Park environmentally friendly?

JM: The design of the project is very much climate and energy friendly. Energy costs in Malta are high and the trend is to have more buildings which are zero emissions so this is where we want to go. We have double glazing, the building has insulation and there’s a new façade with a cladding structure which cost €4 million which will give protection to the operation. We will also include some photovoltaic cells on the roof.

TRC: What type of incentives is the park providing to companies?

JM: The rent which is being offered to prospective tenants is very competitive. The whole package of incentives which apply to other sectors will be applicable also to the life sciences tenant. There are financial incentives, training incentives, tax incentives and capital incentives. We are also highlighting the point that this is something new for Malta and therefore we want people to understand that they will be the first to be here and therefore they will be ahead of competition.

TRC: What are the occupancy targets for the park?

JM: The target is that we would have about 60 percent occupancy in the first three years. Up to now with the contacts that we have I would assume that we have enough contacts to fill about 2,000 square metres.

We want the private sector from China to come and invest in. We want the Chinese entrepreneurs to see that Malta gives them access to Europe and to North Africa.
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TRC: Do you see potential clients from China or the rest of Asia?

JM: Yes. There are already advanced discussions with a Chinese company and we are also in discussions with two universities from the UK that are setting up a medical university in Gozo. The idea is to have students from China who will be getting practice within the Gozo hospital.

TRC: Which have been the main challenges you have faced?

JM: In a project of this size there are always delays. Plans are plans. Not everything goes well, but mainly is it that when you are working with EU funding you have more rules to follow. You have to be accountable and if you need to change something you need to go through a system of approvals. I wouldn’t say that this has been bad for us because we are used to working within these rules but of course it lengthens the process. When we came to procurement because of the high specifications imposed during the tender stage, some of the contractors were short of specifications so in three cases we had to re-issue the tenders which took time.

TRC: What are the expectations for the park for the long term, from here to 2020?

JM: I believe that the health segment is something that will continue to grow. If you see the figures where investments are going, they’re going to IT, technology and health. We are living longer and people would like to have a good life so the demand is there. We are working for a better future.

TRC: What would be your message for potential Chinese partners and investors?

JM: This is also a political message to our Chinese friends. Malta was one of the first countries to recognise China and to support China in its endeavours. We know each other very well. My first employment in Malta was with a Chinese company and I feel very proud to have more Chinese companies operating in Malta. I know that they are dedicated conscious people, that they are sustainable and they believe in hard work. This is our common heritage. The Maltese are very laborious, very creative and very innovative. For an island of 450,000 people, we are still on the map. That means something because surviving as a small island is very tough. We have a vibrant economy and this has been done in the past with the help of the Chinese government.

Now it is the other way around. We want the private sector from China to come and invest in Malta to continue this relationship which was put in place by the government. We want the Chinese entrepreneur to see that Malta gives them access to Europe and to North Africa. They know what we can do for them, and now we want the private sector to flourish here. We are very productive here and we want them to take advantage of this situation.


This article was published 16 June 2014
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