Michigan Legislature To Review Shrinking Bioscience Industry

July 19, 2009
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Now through the end of the year represents the best chance for capturing legislators’ attention on issues surrounding life sciences, the leader of a statewide trade group said.

Spurred by a University of Michigan study of the state’s pharmaceutical industry issued earlier this year, both houses of the Legislature have formed groups on the industry, said Stephen Rapundalo, president and CEO of MichBio. The study, released in February, was commissioned by MichBio and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturing Association.

The state Senate’s Economic Development & Regulatory Reform Committee has formed a task force on biotechnology. The state House has created a new subcommittee under the Committee on New Economy & Quality of Life, chaired by state Rep. Ed Clemente, D-Lincoln Park. The task force and subcommittee are in addition to the Biosciences Legislative Caucus.

Clemente said that while the subcommittee is too new to have hammered out a schedule, it intends to host hearings around the state to gather input on Michigan’s life sciences industry, which amounted to $9.34 billion in 2006. 

“We’re trying to make sure if things can be more creative or innovative as far as government,” Clemente said. “The simplest way is to create tools to allow these folks to stay in the state and not get scooped up by other states.”

He said with the implosion of the auto industry that Lansing’s attention on bioscience is crucial to diversify the economy.

The Senate Task Force is being chaired by state Sen. Randy Richardville, R-Monroe. Rep. Rebekah Warren, D-Ann Arbor, chairs the Biosciences Legislative Caucus with Richardville.

About 40 legislators attended a June event, hosted by MichBio, at which the CEOs of several bio-economy firms made presentations about their industry and its needs, Rapundalo said.

The caucus was introduced in 2007, but got to be “like herding cats,” Rapundalo said. So the effort was made to work with the Legislature’s committee structure, as several other states have done, but that, too, failed to gain traction. Then the study was released in February that showed Michigan losing employment in the bioscience field despite the potential for growth.

“It piqued a lot of interest,” Rapundalo said. In quick succession this spring, leaders of both sides of the Legislature blessed the establishment of bioscience groups.

“All of a sudden I found myself basically going from famine to feast, because now I really had the momentum for the caucus, and all of a sudden I had these two legislative groups. … We now are the first and only state to have a subcommittee in both the House and the Senate. There’s only three other states in the country that have committees at all.”

Legislators are expected to conduct hearings across the state in late summer and into the fall to gather information about where their efforts should be targeted, Clemente said. Grand Rapids, Lansing, Midland, Oakland County, Ann Arbor, Kalamazoo and Holland all have industry activity that makes them candidates to host a meeting, Rapundalo said.

He said that the top target for reform to allow bioscience to grow would be tax policy. “It all comes down to the almighty dollar and the availability of capital in one form or another,” he added.

He’d also like to see an update to the eight-year-old strategic plan for the industry.

But with the election year of 2010 looming, Rapundalo said action must occur before the end of the year.

“There seems to be momentum going here. We’re going to try to corral and focus that,” he said. “It’s as good an opportunity as we’ve had in a long time.”

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