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Around the Regions: Mar 30, 2009

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Four Montgomery County, Md., Council Members Call for Local Retention Focus to Economic Development Effort

With Montgomery County, Md., like the nation, mired in the economic upheaval, the county's economic development office should focus more on local businesses than on attracting overseas companies, four County Council members said in a letter last week to County Executive Ike Leggett, according to Maryland Community Newspapers.

"Memoranda of understanding with China are intriguing; however at this time, we are focused closer to home and believe the county should be directing resources to bioscience, technology, green jobs and business innovation," according to the letter, signed by County Council members Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring), Nancy Floreen (D-At large), Mike Knapp (D-Germantown), and George Leventhal (D-At large). "The county should be reaching out to other countries, only after we are assured that existing businesses will be able to ride out the current economic crisis."

The letter comes as the county considers charting a new direction for its job attraction and retention effort following the departure of Pradeep Ganguly, who left while the county was investigating a $25,000 county grant he directed the office to give to a Bethesda company where his son works [see BioRegion Newsmakers, this issue].

The council members chided Leggett for leaving "this important office being rudderless during the current economic storm," by accepting Ganguly's departure without having a successor in place.

Speaking to the Washington Examiner, Knapp linked the vacuum to recent setbacks the county has experienced in its economic development effort: Montgomery recently lost a new headquarters for Hilton Hotels, and its 300 accompanying jobs, to Virginia's Fairfax County. Also, Banner Life Insurance has disclosed plans to move its headquarters and 400 jobs within Maryland, from Montgomery to Frederick County.

Responding to the council members, Patrick Lacefield, a spokesman for Leggett, told Maryland Community Newspapers that Montgomery County has sought to draw new jobs through initiatives it has rolled out in bioscience, technology, green jobs, and business innovation: "We agree this is a critical time for the county. That's why we have worked so hard on all the priorities they talked about."

The county has convened a biosciences task force chaired by former MedImmune CEO David Mott, as well as developed a "smart growth" transit-oriented development initiative and the green economy task force.

As for its overseas efforts, Lacefield told the newspaper group, the county's outreach to attract investors and companies from Korea and China focuses on biotechnology and other business fields. Montgomery County is working to both retain existing businesses and attract new ones, and shouldn't have to focus on just one industry, he said.


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NJ Budget Would Cut Spending for Science Commission, Eliminate Stem Cell Funding

Debbie Hart, president of BioNJ, New Jersey's biotechnology industry group, commented to BRN last week on funding for a pair of life sciences priorities in Gov. Jon Corzine's proposed $29.8 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1:

• Commission on Science and Technology — $10 million in FY 2010, down by more than half, reflecting $12.48 million less for programs than FY 2009, with most of that being a $9.25 million drop in funds for grants. Despite that cut, Hart said, "we were concerned that the commission might cease to exist, frankly. So we were very, very pleased that the governor has left it in and actually allocated $10 million to it. We're hoping that the legislature will keep it in there … Given the economy, we'd love to have more, but we're glad to have some."

• Stem cell research — The budget would eliminate the $34.5 million set aside in FY 2009, which includes $20.7 million in funds for research grants, and $13.8 million toward a facility for the New Jersey Stem Cell Research Institute. "It's just unfortunate, but it's a function of the state budget," Hart said. State officials have halted construction on the institute, which would have been based in New Brunswick, less than a year after state voters shocked Corzine and life sciences leaders by rejecting plans by New Jersey to issue $450 million in bonds for grants toward stem cell research [BRN, Nov. 12, 2007].

The proposed cuts were among $4 billion in spending reductions proposed by Corzine in his budget, part of efforts to plug a $7 billion shortfall he and other officials have blamed on the economic upheaval.


Georgia Research Alliance Eyes April Closing on $30M Venture Fund

The Georgia Research Alliance expects to close the first round of a $30 million venture fund in April, President Mike Cassidy told the Atlanta Business Chronicle.

The fund will consist of a pool of private and public dollars intended to help startups that commercialize university research by providing them with early-stage financing — helping Georgia offset its shortage of early-stage capital, Cassidy told the newspaper.

"The fund aims to build more high-tech companies and jobs in Georgia," Cassidy added. "As universities begin to generate more ideas we need additional sources of financing to sustain the companies that are being launched around all these new ideas.


Virginia Legislature Passes Biotech Bill with New Tax Credits, Matching Grants

The Virginia General Assembly has passed and sent on to Gov. Tim Kaine (D) for signature Senate Bill 1338, which allows for additional tax credits, state matching funds for SBIR and STTR grants, and a construction loan program for new life-sci facilities in the state.

SB 1338, also called the Omnibus Biotech Bill, was sponsored by Senator Mark Herring (D-Leesburg), Delegate John O'Bannon (R-Henrico) and Delegate Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax). The three prevailed despite the state's $4 billion budget shortfall.

"Despite the tough economic climate, Virginia took a bold step to support technology-based economic development," Mark Herzog, executive director of the Virginia Biotechnology Association, said in a statement. "With this legislation, investors will be rewarded for developing bioscience and advanced technology spin-outs from Virginia's universities."

SB 1338 incorporated all of the top recommendations from the 2008 Joint Legislative Subcommittee on the Biosciences. The 150-member Virginia Biotechnology Association led the effort to establish the subcommittee, and played a key role in advocating for the bill, with help from the Biotechnology Industry Organization and the Northern Virginia Technology Council.

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Among provisions of the bill:

• Bioscience Investment Tax Credit: The state's 11-year-old, $3 million qualified equity and subordinated debt investment tax credit, or "Angel Investor Tax Credit," is limited to bioscience and other advanced technology startups. Half of the available credit is set aside for tech-transfer spinouts from universities. Eligible companies must register with the state in the calendar year for which the credit will be given, then submit an application to receive the credit.

• Matching Funds for SBIR/STTR Awards: The legislation creates a matching grant program for National Institutes of Health-funded Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer awards. To be eligible, applicants must employ fewer than 12 full-time employees, of which more than half must work in Virginia; and more than half of the applicant's property must also be located in the commonwealth. A commercialization plan must also be submitted.

• Funding for Research Facilities: The legislation establishes a construction loan program for institutions of higher education and political subdivisions of the Commonwealth for facilities utilized in commercializing qualified research, such as wet-laboratories in research parks or university campuses.


Thrive Report: Madison Wisc.-Area Biotech Employment Doubles Between 2000-2007

Employment in the Madison, Wisc.-area's biotechnology industry nearly doubled between 2000 and 2007, from 2,900 to more than 5,700 jobs, according to the Biotechnology Sector Snapshot report on the region's biotech activity released last week by the regional economic development group Thrive. The group defines "biotech" as employers focused on research and development, drugs or medical devices.

That number swells to 10,160 jobs under a broader "bioindustry" category that also includes testing laboratories, agricultural biotech, and even diagnostic imaging centers — up from 6,120 jobs in 2000.

Also according to Thrive's four-page sector snapshot:

• The Madison region accounted for 34 percent of the state's biotech workforce in 2007, up from 22 percent in 2000.

• The region is home to 166 biotech firms, of which more than 70 percent employ fewer than 20 people. The remainder includes nine companies employing more than 250 people — the largest of which is contract research organization Covance, which has more than 1,000 employees. The broader bioindustry number of employers is 257, up 64 percent since 2000.

• Average salaries for Madison-area biotech workers range from the mid-$20,000s to the mid-$90,000s, based on level of education, with average wages per worker in the mid-to-upper $60,000s.


Taiwan Cabinet Plans Launch of $1.8B Public-Private VC Fund with Biotech Focus

Taiwan's Cabinet is planning to launch a NT$60 billion (nearly $1.8 billion), 10-year public-private venture capital fund focusing on biotech investments, the Taipei Times reported.

Under the plan, announced late last week, the Taiwan government's National Development Fund will raise initial capital of between NT$7.5 billion and NT$10 billion, then take a 40 percent stake in the fund, while the remaining 60 percent will be controlled by private investors.

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The cabinet vowed to turn biotechnology into Taiwan's third "trillion-dollar industry" in 10 years, after the semiconductor and flat-panel industries, which each generate more than NT$1 trillion ($29.5 billion) a year in revenue.

"Biotechnology is a mainstream global industry that Taiwan can't miss," Chang Jin-fu, a minister without portfolio in Taiwan's cabinet, said at a press conference, according to the Taipei Times.
"We hope to double the production value of the industry in four years."

Chang said the government would proceed with the plans to establish a medical device industry in Hsinchu and a pharmaceutical industry in Taipei City's Nangang District.

Creation of the public-private VC fund comes as private-sector investment in biotechnology has stagnated since 2001, when it exceeded NT$20 billion, to a more recent annual average of about NT$1.2 billion.


Parexel Honored by BioSingapore with Best Performing CRO Award

Parexel International, a global biopharmaceutical services provider, has received the Best Performing Clinical Research Organization Award from BioSingapore, an industry association for life sciences businesses encouraged by Singapore's Economic Development Board. The award was presented to the company at the BioSingapore Asia/Pacific Biotechnology Awards 2009 Gala Dinner, held March 17 during the BioMedical Asia Conference in Singapore.

Michael Entzeroth, chairman of BioSingapore, said in a statement that the award honored Parexel for its focus on supporting clinical development throughout the Asia/Pacific region: "Parexel is recognized for the broad spectrum of services provided by the company, the competitive edge it has created in this geography, and its international reputation for speed and high quality."


British Columbia Hires Trade and Investment Representative for India

British Columbia has appointed its first trade and investment representative focusing on boosting the Canadian province's business and cultural ties with India.

The province has contracted Abroader Consultancy India to provide trade and investment services in India. The consultancy, headed by Pratap Raju, will open and operate a dedicated trade and investment office in Bangalore. It is anticipated the office will be open by early summer, the province's Ministry of Small Business, Technology and Economic Development said in a statement.

In addition to promoting British Columbia as a destination for trade and investment, the Bangalore office will advance research and innovation partnerships and support inbound trade missions and inquiries by BC-based companies and organizations. The office will also help Indian investors form partnerships in BC by working closely with the new Asia-Pacific Business Centre, located at Robson Square in Vancouver, and the province's India and Southeast Asia Business Development Section.

The trade and investment office will focus on biotechnology and life sciences, as well as information and communication technology; advanced energy and environmental technology; and advanced education.

The Bangalore office will be British Columbia's sixth trade and investment office in Asia. The other offices are located in Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Seoul, and Tokyo.


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