Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Solano EDC courts biotechs at BIO for the county

FAIRFIELD - Solano County put its best foot forward when the Super Bowl of biotechnology conventions met last month on the East Coast.

What the county came out with was a short list - specifically four companies - to continue conversations with in hopes to lure their biotech manufacturing facilities here. Solano County has a leg up on the local competition when it comes to biotech with major tenants such as Genentech, ALZA Corp. and Chiron Corp.

Solano EDC president Mike Ammann is keeping mum on the identity of the companies so as not to jeopardize future talks with them. Keith Sutton, business development director for the Oakland-based Economic Development Alliance for Business and chairman of TeamCalifornia, which represented the state at the BIO 2005 convention in Philadelphia, wouldn't budge either.

"That's confidential information," Sutton said. "(Solano County) is a cost-effective place to do manufacturing, which is certainly one of the most critical areas to focus on. I think we'll always maintain our research and development status but capturing the manufacturing jobs created by these companies has been a challenge - a lot of these companies are going internationally. Manufacturing is our best opportunity for growth in terms of the biotech industry."

TeamCalifornia is a group of mostly mid-sized economic development organizations and cities that stress the importance of economic development and marketing. The team has shouldered the responsibility of bringing California to the biotech table, largely through three national biotech trade shows, after the termination of the California Trade and Commerce Agency in 2003. In addition to BIO, the two other biggies are CoreNet and the Medical Design & Manufacturing trade show.

"These trade shows have the most potential for business development," Sutton said, mentioning TeamCalifornia made contact with more than 300 firms at BIO.

The trade show attracted more than 18,000 attendees, said Danielle Cohn, spokesperson for the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau. Estimated economic impact there: $35 million.

"BIO only goes to cities where there is a strong biotech industry in place," Cohn said. "For any city to be in front this group is a tremendous opportunity and a wise investment."

According to Solano EDC's Ammann, the secret to luring biotech involves a simple formula: A major research university performing clinical trials such as the University of California, Davis, a well-educated workforce and major sources of venture capital. UC Davis produces the largest number of life sciences graduates in California, and was ranked 15th in research funding among U.S. universities with $426 million.

In terms of location, Solano County's position between San Francisco and Sacramento couldn't be better.

"We really see ourselves actively working together (with San Francisco and Sacramento)," Ammann said. "We're going to work with both areas."

Reach Christine Cubé at 427-6934 or

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