Diagnostics & Imaging Week Staff Writer

In an effort to promote the Georgia life sciences sector, a coalition made up of counties and organizations is reporting the formation of a branding campaign for Georgia's Innovation Crescent.

The state has dubbed the Athens-to-Atlanta life science area Georgia's Innovation Crescent region and given it the tagline "Where Life Science Grows."

This initiative, which is the Peach State's first regional branding campaign for the life sciences corridor, is geared toward providing workforce training for Georgia's burgeoning biotechnology industry and shining a spotlight on the sector. Its management group is headed up by the Innovation Crescent Regional Partnership, which is comprised of 18 counties and organizations – and is a way to foster and draw in new business, as well as support existing business within the state.

The regional crescent effort focuses on a 13-county region which spreads from Cobb County east to Oglethorpe County and includes Atlanta and Fulton, DeKalb, Clayton, Gwinnett, Barrow, Jackson, Walton, Morgan, Oconee, Athens-Clarke and Madison counties.

"We think that by coming together it's going to make for a better marketing experience," Bill Davis, business development manager of healthcare & life sciences at the Gwinnett County Chamber of Commerce. "Let's say a company is looking for a place to start up a processing lab and Gwinnett is unavailable to help the company with its needs. Through the (initiative) I can say I can't help you in Gwinnett, but my colleague in Cobb County can."

Primary organizers of the effort consist of regional leaders from local chambers of commerce and economic development organizations across the metro area plus Georgia Bio (Atlanta) the Atlanta Regional Commission and the Georgia Department of Economic Development.

"The group has been meeting for sometime now to develop a marketing strategy to promote the sector," Cinda Herdon-King, a director for education programs at Georgia Bio, told Diagnostics & Imaging Week. "Unofficially we've been meeting for about a year but we just recently launched this branding campaign."

"The goal of the marketing campaign is twofold," said Ed Graham, project manager for the Innovation Crescent Regional Partnership, in a press release. "First, it serves to cluster the region's life science resources and more effectively promote the regions assets, marketing them to new businesses. And, second, it builds a unique brand position for Georgia's Innovation Crescent that recognizes the region as a unique hub of life science talent."

But most importantly, it gives the crescent a sort of unity – and puts respective counties all on one page when it comes to attracting business. In time, the crescent wants to rival the unity of Research Triangle, a large med-tech sector in the Piedmont region of North Carolina.

"Look everyone talks about the Research Triangle," Herdon-King told D&IW. "But no one can tell you about what counties make up the Research Triangle. Yet it's one of the most powerful lifesciences sectors in the country. That's what we're aiming for here. We want to develop into a powerful force ... together."

North Carolina and Florida remain as two sterling examples of what can happen when the counties and communities have a strong lifesciences marketing strategy in place.

North Carolina has a state-funded Biotechnology Center that is a private nonprofit corporation that promotes biotech research, business, and education statewide. The center, which employs 69, operates on a $17.6 million annual budget, $13.1 million of which comes from the state.

Florida has a great deal of support as well garnering $1 billion that is poured into subsides to attract academic research institutes as anchor employers of a biotech cluster created by Florida legislators.

"After we started researching this, we found out we have just as many life sciences companies as the Research Triangle," Davis said. "We just haven't been marketing our sector for 25 years like they have. We want companies who're thinking about coming to the South to think of the Innovation Crescent in the same way as they would the Research Triangle."

And if one were to observe closely, it seems like the Peach State is close to becoming a life science sector powerhouse.

According to a recent Ernst & Young (New York) study, Georgia leaped to seventh place from 11th in the total number of life science companies in the country. Georgia's biotech industry also accounts for more than 15,000 jobs, a payroll close to $1 billion and product sales of $7 billion. To date, the more than 250 biotech businesses call Georgia home and the biotech industry alone has grown more than 140% throughout the last 10 years.

The leading companies in the crescent are Ciba Vision (Duluth); UCB (Alpharetta); Merial (Duluth); Solvay Pharmaceuticals (Marietta); Kimberly-Clark Health Care (Roswell); Immucor (Norcross); CryoLife (Kennesaw); Theragenics (Buford); OPTI Medical Systems (Roswell); and CardioMEMS (Atlanta).

"It's going to be a learning curve," Davis said. "Our first year is establishing the brand and when BIO comes to Atlanta next year — hopefully we'll be able to hit the ground running."