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Why Bio?

Fri, May 9th, 2008
Posted in Commentary

In an increasingly competitive world marketplace, every region must identify and build upon areas of strategic advantage. Here in southern Minnesota, the bio-sciences offer us that edge. What is bio-science?

Bio-science applies biological technology to innovations in medicine, energy and agriculture. Southern Minnesota has long been recognized for its innovative businesses in these very areas. We have the world famous Mayo Clinic, MVTL Laboratories in New Ulm, numerous ethanol plants, and a significant cluster of agriculture-based industries such as Hormel in Austin, Bushel Boy Tomato in Owatonna, Hubbard Milling in Mankato, Malto Meal in Northfield, and Associated Milk Producers in New Ulm.

To grow bio-businesses you also need facilities focused on scientific research in genetics, molecular biology, bio-informatics, renewable energy, bio processing, food ingredients, medical technology, human health technology, and bio-materials. In this regard, too, our southern Minnesota region is well-positioned. Our bio-science research assets include Mayo in Rochester, the Hormel Research Institute in Austin, the Agriculture Utilization and Research Institute and the University of Minnesota's Southern Research Center in Waseca. The research capacity of the region has also benefited from a partnership between computer giant IBM and both Mayo and Hormel.

We already know that through Mayo Medical Ventures, new discoveries are being taken into the market place. As we look ahead, we can expect more and more commercialization opportunities to come out of these regional research labs. We need to capture and keep more of those businesses right here in southern Minnesota.

A proposed bio-research park just north of Rochester - called Elk Run - along with a bio-business office building to be constructed adjacent to the Mayo Clinic also enhance the region's prospects.

On the workforce side of the bio-business equation, we can look to Winona State University's Center for Excellence in Health, three regional Community College campuses, Minnesota State University-Mankato, and a cluster of higher education facilities in Rochester - including the new downtown campus of the University of Minnesota-Rochester.

All of these assets form the basis for future bio-business growth in our region.

Recently, the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation conducted a Bio Industry Marketplace Study to help guide our work in this arena. From this analysis, we know that bio jobs pay about 165% of the average sector wage in the United States and that every new bio-business job results in the creation of six additional jobs in related fields. Those statistics alone explain why our Foundation has made bio-business one of our priorities.

Our Foundation is working with regional partners in the following ways:

• Together with area Workforce Investment Boards, the Minnesota Bio-Business Alliance, AgStar and other partners we are creating an asset map to coordinate economic development strategies for the region (including growing bio-businesses and attracting new bio- businesses).

• We are offering our Bio Seed funds to assist entrepreneurs in creating new bio based products.

• We are partnering with area lenders to finance emerging bio-businesses through our gap financing revolving loan fund.

• We are sponsoring a "Growing Bio in southern Minnesota" conference on May 22 in Austin to highlight the region's bio strength, connect the region's community leaders, and accelerate the region's efforts to become a world-class bio-business leader.

The mission of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation is to "invest in the region's future growth through grants, loans, technical expertise and partnerships." Dedicating a share of our Foundation's resources to advance bio-business, we believe, is one of the best ways to assure that future regional economic growth will occur.

For more information on the Growing Bio conference or our bio-related resources check out our web site www.smifoundation.org, or call 507-455-3215.

Tim Penny is the President of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation

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