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The global biotechnology industry will face many serious issues over the next year, ranging from ethical and regulatory fights to the rigors of engineering better biofuels and bioproducts. But few of those challenges will compare with what immediately confronts the 20,000 convention visitors at BIO '06.
Whose advertising slogans can you really believe?
A walk-through in Chicago's massive McCormick Place demonstrates just how competitive the biotech world has become in relatively short order, with virtually every state and scores of countries competing feverishly for the attention of investors, researchers, news media and, well
others like themselves.
Consider Wisconsin's 1,600-square-foot pavilion, an artistic swirl of curved walls, meeting spaces and display space that was designed to spot visitors in their tracks before they move on to neighboring displays from Oklahoma, Nebraska, Italy and Israel. It's the largest and best Badger state effort in anyone's memory, and it's pulled together under the slogan, "Wisconsin: The Core of Discovery."
Within the Wisconsin pavilion, however, is the UW-Madison section and a different slogan: "It's all here." Or is it? If you walk to another side of the pavilion, you'll run into the Missouri pavilion and its sales pitch: "It's all here: At the intersection of life and science." So is it here or there? Or, perhaps, everywhere?
Some states are even more grandiose in their marketing claims. Florida, which is throwing money at biotech like a college student throw away money on spring break, asserts it is "The Innovation Hub of the Americas." Not just North America, but Central and South America, too.
New York is the "State of Minds." But so is North Carolina, which begs for a meeting of the minds in some neutral spot. Perhaps that could be "Pennsylvania: State of Innovation," or "New Jersey: Advancing the World of Biotechnology."
Wisconsin's Midwest neighbors have their slogans, too. Iowa is "Life|Changing." Don't forget that "Bio's hot in Nebraska," or that "Illinois is putting science to work." Minnesota missed the chance to stand out as the "Land of 10,000 Biochips" and instead settled for the longish, "Positively Minnesota: The Biobusiness Convergence Leader."
Michigan deserves credit for being true to its roots: "Great Lakes, Great Location." The same goes for Kansas, where a cyclone-shaped exhibit is dominated mainly by pictures of sunflowers, a new symbol for bio-products. And Kentucky draws upon its horse tradition with the slogan, "Unbridled Spirit."
Hawaii is "Open for Business" and Texas is "Wide Open for Business," which is presumably better.
Louisiana is actually here, which is reassuring given all those folks went through with Hurricane Katrina. Any slogan for the Bayou state is better than none at all. And at the Virginia pavilion, you can learn that George Mason University in Fairfax produces something other than Final Four basketball teams.
California, forever confident and even a bit arrogant, has a one-word banner -- "California" against a picture of sunset over a Pacific beach.
Foreign pavilions aren't immune from sloganeering, either. Chile is "all ways surprising," New Zealand is where you go for "new thinking," and Dubai has found a new port in the storm "Dubiotech." All are dwarfed in size, of course, by the sleek French and efficient German pavilions, as well as the red-and-white dragons that mark the Chinese section.
Thankfully, Wisconsin appears to be the only "Core of Discovery." Until next year, and Madagascar or Liechtenstein steal the idea.
Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison.