Monday, May 07, 2007
By Mike Flaherty
Wisconsin last year received another reminder of what its rapidly growing biotechnology industry faces as it seeks to become a new force in the commercial world of science.
At last year's BIO 2006, a gathering of the world's biotechnology industy, there were more than 1,700 exhibitors from 43 states and 36 nations seeking the attention of venture capitialists, angel investors, universities and firms looking to grow or seek partners.
This year, the numbers at BIO 2007 look even larger with more than 25,000 people crowded into Boston's cavernous Convention and Exhibition Center.
The question for Gov. Jim Doyle, his Department of Commerce, the University of Wisconsin System and the state's rapidly growing biotechnology industry is how can Wisconsin rise above the roar of the crowd and make itself known?
There are easily three times more journalists and media representatives here than there are daily newspapers in Wisconsin (the media center lost count). Looking at the world from those journalists' perpective, most states are claiming they are leaders of some sort in biotechnology research and development.
What can Doyle say to set Wisconsin apart?
-- He won a hotly contested 2006 re-election in which human embryonic stem cell research was an issue. Voters in Wisconsin support this research.
-- The Institutes for Discovery, a $150-million interdisciplinary research center, has attracted both public and private financing. Once completed in a few years, the center will become the only center of its kind outside the East and West Coasts. While it will be built with bricks and mortar, the Institutes' foundation stands on more than 100 years of cutting-edge research at UW-Madison.
-- Wisconsin continues to have an edge in human embryonic stem-cell research, leading the world in scientific publications. More than 100 researchers in all disciplines are clustered at UW-Madison.
-- Academic research in Wisconsin, pound for pound, ranks it among the national leaders. A little-known fact: UW-Madison recorded more research spending in 2004 ($764 million) than either the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ($545 million) or Harvard University ($455 million), which lie a stone's throw away from the convention hall.
Raising a state's visibility in this industry will require the collective will of the state's political and industry leaders -- and require it over the long term. With a delegation of 60 sponsors and nearly 200 industry and public representatives here in Boston, Wisconsin is off to a good start.
Flaherty is president of Flaherty & Associates, a public-relations firm based in Madison.