Bio, technology science effort puts a balance on news headlines

July 15, 2009
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Encouraging developments in Michigan’s bio and technology sciences industries may provide answers to some of the issues still plaguing the full expansion of this state economic key.

First and foremost is the milestone recorded in early June at Michigan State University. President Lou Anna K. Simon signed a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy establishing the “instrument” of financial assistance to begin design, construction and operation of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams on the MSU campus. The facility will be no less than the world’s newest research tool for probing the depth of atoms.

MSU thereby is the designated national user facility by the DOE Office of Nuclear Physics. Simon commented in media statements through the university, “This is an important project for American science and the state of Michigan. Not only will this keep MSU on the cutting edge of nuclear science, it will ensure that we honor our commitment of training the nuclear scientists of tomorrow while bolstering the economies of mid-Michigan and the entire state.”

MSU’s graduate nuclear physics program has been ranked No. 2 in the nation, behind Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It has operated and currently operates the National Superconducting Cyclotron laboratory as a national user facility.

Meanwhile, up the street at the state capital, both the Michigan House and Senate created subcommittees that will focus on the issues surrounding life sciences, making Michigan the only state in the country to have such legislative high profile for this industry sector. The legislative action was spurred by MichBio, the biosciences industry trade association and an affiliate of the national Biotechnology Industry Organization, which stretches its membership to 33 countries.

The legislative move in both Houses was the result of a study conducted by the University of Michigan for MichBio and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturing Association. The study, released in February, showed that the state has bioscience industry assets but is “losing ground” with employment declines. (See the story on page 12.) The state’s industry strategic plan is now eight years old. There are continuing concerns with the availability of capital, and state tax reform to create more enabling policy.

Legislators, some of whom heard directly from about 40 MichBio members last month, are now scheduling hearings across the state to determine how legislative efforts should be targeted.

The final pages of this issue of Health Quarterly include stories regarding recruitment of tremendously talented and internationally recognized individuals to West Michigan in both life and health sciences. MSU’s building of the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams brings recruitment of a new caliber of specialist to West Michigan, and a widespread domino effect in new job creation. A study conducted by the Anderson Economic Group showed the state could anticipate $187 million in new tax revenue as a result of the FRIB.

Birgit Klohs, president of economic development agency The Right Place Inc., said, “It does connect very much into the life sciences development in the area. I’m not sure you can always draw a direct straight line. This is a great win for the state. That’s exactly what we are trying to build — an additional economy in Michigan built around the life sciences.”

It is the best economic news this state has seen in 2009.

— Carole Valade

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