Monday, June 25, 2007

Rally For Biotech

Rally For Biotech
Don't Let Jealousies Sabotage Solano's Economic Growth
By Michael Ammann

The potential for biotechnology growth in Solano County is tremendous. While Solano County and its individual cities have succeeded in attracting some of the key corporations in this dynamic industry, much more can be accomplished if we can create a more effective and viable partnership of business, government and education.

The good news is that we have been successful with nominal budgets, but one has to wonder how much more we could achieve with adequate economic development funding and common goals and strategies.

The bad news is that the state of California has woefully failed to provide the dollars and incentives necessary to compete for this booming industry. It has been put on the shoulders of cities and regional entities, such as Solano Economic Development Corp., to shoulder the financial burden.

With such phenomenal financial returns for local communities, it is no wonder the competition is growing. Today, it no longer is a national competition to attract and maintain major employers in the biotech field - it is now an international competition. And the promotional dollars are flowing at enormous rates. Singapore and Scotland are two examples of how competitive the biotech field is worldwide.

In Singapore, output from drug factories has jumped more than 30 percent in the past year alone, to a record $14.8 billion. Singapore has poured resources into academic and industry education, creating a pool of skilled labor. It is graduating some 3,500 university students each year, and another 3,000 trained technicians. This has attracted four major companies in the past year: Genentech, GlaxoSmithKline, Lonza and Schering-Plough.

Scotland is another example of a nation's all-out effort to attract biotech. Bristol-Myers Squibb recently broke ground in Devens, Scotland, for a $660 million biomanufacturing plant. Insiders predict that Scotland is working diligently to bring more major companies to the region.

These two examples alone demonstrate the international competition for the biotech expansion - and why Solano County must strategize to meet the challenge to attract these highly favorable economic expansions.

At the recent BIO 2007 convention in Boston - the world's largest show for the industry - California competed against Singapore and a score of other "big hitters" who came with millions of dollars in exhibits, receptions and gifts.

TEAM California - a nonprofit organization comprised of local economic development organizations and a handful of large cities, counties and corporations - was also at the convention, but not with the financial clout others had.

As in Solano County, TEAM California relies on effective personal contacts and the natural resources of California to entice corporations and developers. There have been successes, and Solano County certainly is one of the stars in this area.

Solano County relies on its Economic Development Corp. and local economic professionals to attract business. The county is strategically placed to become a leader in the biotech industry. It is situated between two major metropolitan areas and near two of the finest research universities in the world, the University of California at Berkeley and Davis. These universities are both receiving financial support and are expanding their biotechnology research capabilities even more.

Solano County also has a built-in work force, with many well-paid workers just waiting for good jobs so they won't face the commutes to the Bay Area or state capital.

The Solano EDC, working in partnership with local cities, is putting up a valiant battle to attract major employers to our area. In some ways, it is an easy sale. The natural beauty of our communities goes a long way toward getting companies interested in locating here. They like the variety of lifestyle available here and the fact the county has low crime rates and good higher education opportunities.

But, compare Solano County with Boston, for example, and it is easy to understand why we are facing a battle for the economic future. Boston is also an attractive place to live and it, too, has a solid bio-industry.

At the Bio 2007 trade show last month, Massachusetts Biotechnology Council spent $1.2 million to create a pavilion. That's almost twice the annual budget of economic development expenditures in Solano County!

Solano County's future for economic development will depend on three things:

• A recognition from cities, county officials and private industry that biotech is good business for here.

• A strategic game plan to attract firms. Solano EDC, working in partnership with government and the private sector, must build on its current marketing campaign plan to create a long-term strategy to pursue biotech firms.

• Adequate funding to compete in this market. The stakes are high, the payoffs are tremendous, and our professionals need to be armed with the best marketing tools we can afford.

How simple it all sounds. Just do three things and Solano County will have even more successes in the biotech field. Yet the battles of turf and egos are something that has to be overcome.

We all must recognize that if a major employer selects a city in Solano County for expansion, the entire county has the opportunity to benefit. Genentech, for example, recently chose Dixon for its new research and development facility. This will benefit all other cities. It will open up job opportunities for our residents. It will generate more interest in Solano County, which means a greater chance for another firm to move to the area. Biotech firms tend to cluster together, to share and attract suppliers and a labor force.

It truly is one big puzzle that has to be put together, and all of the pieces must fit and none be lost. If just one city, or the county government, or a major developer, or a vital labor organization is missing, the puzzle will not be completed, nor will the goals be reached.

Solano EDC is the county's economic arm, with 200 members. Working through its Marketing Committee, comprised of local cities, nonprofits and business, the EDC is dedicated to getting more companies to "plant their business in Solano County" because, when it's all said and done "Solano's got it."

• The author is president of the Solano Economic Development Corp., a private-public partnership designed to attract and retain business and industry in Solano County.

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