ATLANTA - Opportunity fuels growth, a ripple effect felt throughout the biotechnology industry.
Global and national industry growth naturally spawn local initiatives, developing regions or sectors known for market opportunities within the business. Areas including Southern California near San Diego, further north in the Bay Area or back east in Boston come to mind.
But the push for biotech development is growing nationwide. The Georgia Biomedical Partnership on Thursday hosted the second Georgia Life Sciences Summit, an example of such local enterprise.
"We work with these groups to look at opportunities to build an industry presence," Patrick Kelly, the director of state government relations and grassroots programs for the Washington-based Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), told BioWorld Today. "We're trying to attract attention from national investment opportunities to leverage nationally what's going on in the state, to build the companies here and what we deem our state affiliate organization - the Georgia Biomedical Partnership. The success of the partnership will help BIO and our mission: representation of the industry at both the national and state levels."
Biotech's growth in the Peach State is evident in the daylong conference's move to a convention center setting, a year after it was held in a hotel. But the industry's expansion is more apparent in more tangible terms as well.
"Georgia, when it comes to biotechnology, is excelling compared to the rest of the country," Robert McNally, the chairman of the Georgia Biomedical Partnership, told an early morning audience. "We've got a technology and an industry that's up near the top."
Citing figures released during BIO's annual meeting in Toronto, he said Georgia ranks ninth among U.S. states in terms of the industry. Most of the state's companies in the sector remain small, development-stage firms with fewer than 50 employees. But McNally said his group's objective is to push Georgia into the No. 6 spot by 2010.
Such goals entail a number of factors that come into play. To that end, the organization has fixated on government, educational and business backing for innovative economic development.
McNally said the state government has committed to growing the industry, which could facilitate development of dedicated research parks to house locally based businesses. Two pieces of legislation, CAPCO and the Bioscience Seed Fund, are aimed at attracting local investment. The biomedical partnership also is pushing the state government for further incentives such as tax breaks on capital equipment and favorable real estate financing deals.
State support is not a novel idea - according to a 2001 BIO report, 28 states had provided early stage development funding. Ten said they had in the prior four years developed strategic plans to expand the industry. The report said 16 are using tobacco settlement funds for biotech research and development. Favorable tax structures are also common, with many states offering exemptions and investment tax credits. Three states - Connecticut, Hawaii and New Jersey - permit transfer tax benefits.
Research institutions also fuel local development through technology transfer and schooling. Home to a number of higher education institutions such as Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, both in Atlanta, an emerging local industry can draw on both funding and talent from area schools.
Better business backing from venture capital firms would also aid in drawing and retaining talent, and in turn, technology.
"There are a few strategies that have been put together," McNally said. "One is to try to create a critical mass. Second, we want to create a supportive business pact and regulatory climate. We also want to establish a national and international image for Georgia."
BIO plays a big-picture role in such local development, which positively impacts each region.
"Through the growth of these clusters, you're benefiting the universities by allowing them to transfer technology for commercialization that will hopefully pay dividends back," Kelly said. "You keep your best and brightest students from your local state and private universities. We are one of the highest-wage industries in the country, so the more biotech employees you bring to a region the higher your tax brackets are.
"There are many benefits, but for the most part we have to be realistic - the states want a return on investment. We hope that's a positive trend."
The Georgia initiative has drafted for itself a number of lofty goals. It expects to court $725 million of financing into the industry by 2010, funds drawn from state alliances between government, education and research entities. At that point, McNally said the state should be home to 30 to 40 large companies, as well as 400 early stage companies. Such new companies would result in 18,000 new jobs and generate between $1 billion to $3 billion per year for the state.
"We want people to recognize Georgia as the place for biotechnology," McNally said.