Early vision focused on scientific, medical research community
"If I have seen farther, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."
The quote, by famed physicist Sir Isaac Newton, is the impetus behind one of the more well-known sculptures in The Woodlands, "On the Shoulders of Giants," at the corner of Research Forest Drive and Grogan's Mill Road. It reflects the ideal that Woodlands founder George Mitchell and his team of developers originally envisioned for the Research Forest more than 30 years ago.
Today, Research Forest scarcely resembles that original vision. The development along Research Forest Drive, like elsewhere in The Woodlands, has been successful, with restaurants, housing, retail and office development growing at a steady pace. However, the goal for Mitchell and his team, which included Roger Galatas, was something much different.
Mitchell and the early Woodlands developers had a strong desire to create a section of the community dedicated exclusively to commercial, medical, private and scientific research.
"George saw The Woodlands as being an asset to the Houston region, and Research Forest would be an element to add value not only to The Woodlands, but the Houston region and particularly the Medical Center," Galatas said.
To get a sense of what factors led to a successful research-focused corridor, Mitchell, Galatas and others visited some of the more well known institutions in the country, including Silicon Valley in California, Route 128 in the Boston area and the Research Triangle in North Carolina.
However, the problem that Mitchell and The Woodlands faced was those corridors had strong relationships with nearby universities with strong research credentials. The closest universities to The Woodlands were Rice University and the University of Houston, 40 miles to the south.
"While [the universities] were not here, George saw an opportunity to build a relationship with the scientific elements of those universities and combine that with medical elements of the Medical Center," Galatas said.
Mitchell pooled his personal money and corporate monies to establish Houston Advanced Research Center, a collection of researchers from 12 universities that performed a wide range of research. Galatas said that among the work performed at HARC was medical research for the Medical Center, commercial research for private companies and even research for the Department of Defense.
Developers also worked to entice start-up research companies to open in The Woodlands by offering them new office space with quality amenities, attractive scenery and cheap office space. Among the early businesses in Research Forest were the biotech company Life Cell, Baylor College of Medicine and pharmaceutical company Zonagen.
According to Galatas' book, The Woodlands, HARC was hired to develop large magnets for the Superconducting Supercollidor. But as that program was shut down by Congress in 1993, funding was cut for the Department of Defense. Biotech and research companies either failed or were bought out, and the research-centric business in Research Forest began to disappear.
HARC still occupies a single building, but its role and influence have diminished. It's a project Mitchell still funds today and hopes to see continue in the future, Galatas said.