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Having two biomedical tech centers in Wisconsin will help the state

Milwaukee — Examine the techno-geography of other states across the Midwest, and you'll find they're generally "bipolar." No, that's not a psychiatric diagnosis, but instead a reflection on the fact that most successful states have one or more tech centers.

Minnesota has the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St. Paul (home to the University of Minnesota) and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Illinois has Chicago, with Northwestern University and a number of research labs, and the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. Michigan has Michigan State in East Lansing and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Ohio has Columbus (Ohio State University), Cleveland (the Cleveland Clinic) and research centers in Cincinnati. Even Iowa has Iowa State University in Ames and the University of Iowa in Iowa City.

For most of its history, Wisconsin has really had only one tech "pole" that mattered. The University of Wisconsin in Madison is still the proverbial 800-pound gorilla when it came to scientific research, routinely ranking among the top five public research universities in dollars spent per year. Let's call Madison the "West Pole."

Since the mid-1990s, however, Wisconsin has begun to develop a "East Pole." But it doesn't fall under one institutional ice cap.

The "East Pole" of Wisconsin research and tech transfer lies in Milwaukee and surrounding areas. It includes a combination of research institutions, medical clinics and private companies, all engaged in work that is pushing the envelope of bioinformatics, medical imaging and other medical devices.
It isn't as big as the "West Pole" – yet – and it may never have the depth and breadth of research found in Madison. But it is adding capacity to Wisconsin's ability to compete as a technology state, and that's welcome news.

The development of the "East Pole" was front and center last week with an announcement by the Biomedical Technology Alliance that the Wisconsin Institute for Biomedical and Health Technologies has been launched with a $1 million grant from the UW-Milwaukee. While $1 million doesn't sound like a lot, especially in the research world, the commitment by UW-Milwaukee has already attracted 10 times its weight.

The new facility, to be housed at the Cozzens and Cudahy Research Center on Milwaukee's northwest side, will be funded by both private and public dollars. Unspecified donations have already been made by the Medical College of Wisconsin, Aurora Health Care, Cerner Corp. and GE Healthcare Technologies, one of the corporate powerhouses of Wisconsin.

The institute will involve five UW-Milwaukee schools and colleges and include nearly 65 researchers from UW-Milwaukee and the Medical College. The seed money will be used primarily to attract a world-class director and a research team.

According to UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Carlos Santiago, between $10 million and $12 million has been committed to the new institute by alliance participants. Santiago has experience in leading such ventures: He helped create a partnership between the State University of New York and IBM in Albany, N.Y., before coming to Milwaukee.

The purpose of the Milwaukee institute is to create a center where collaborative efforts among academic, biomedical and health-care researchers and companies will lead to more economic growth for southeast Wisconsin. In that sense, it's similar to the Institute for Discovery, which is proposed for the UW-Madison campus and which will tap into the interdisciplinary strengths of that university.

It will be trickier getting that kind of collaboration in Milwaukee. There are more, and smaller, institutions. Lab spaces and offices are separated by miles rather than a cross-campus walk. However, the potential for cooperation is significant, and the players are motivated by a desire to see the region grow.

All of Wisconsin will benefit if the state becomes more "bipolar." The growth of the East Pole won't detract from anything happening in the West Pole of Madison. In fact, if the track record of other Midwest states is a guide, the East Pole will help Wisconsin grow in prominence as a leading technology state.

Tom Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council and the Wisconsin Innovation Network. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.

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