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When its parts pull together, Wisconsin can tell a compelling economic story

MILWAUKEE – If you ask visitors from Spain, Lithuania or Hong Kong what they know about Wisconsin, chances are good the answers will have something to do with beer, brats, cheese or the Green Bay Packers. But how much would they know about our biotechnology?

Not much, if anything. However, it’s vital to Wisconsin’s economic future that people far outside our borders learn more about the state’s technology assets – from its great research institutions to its emerging high-tech companies.

Spreading the word about the “new” Wisconsin was the goal of an April 23 tour of the Milwaukee area by trade representatives from 15 nations. They came, not in search of a better brat, but of business opportunities in a range of bioscience fields that are fast becoming a Wisconsin specialty.

“We probably did not know what was here,” said David Kouridri, a trade commissioner for Switzerland and leader of the Chicago International Trade Commission Association. At the invitation of Spirit of Milwaukee, the association teamed with several Wisconsin organizations to tour two Milwaukee tech firms and the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Trade envoys on the trip were from: Australia, Austria, Basque region of Spain, Belgium, Great Britain, Hong Kong, India, Israel, Lithuania, Mexico, The Netherlands, Quebec, Romania, Spain and Switzerland.
At Prodesse, the delegation learned how this Waukesha-based company had grown from a handful of people two years ago to 20 today by building an international distribution network for its infectious disease tests. Prodesse manufactures multiple-platform tests for respiratory viruses and other diseases. Using Prodesse’s technology, doctors can administer a battery of tests at once to quickly pinpoint a disease.

At TeraMEDICA in Milwaukee, the group learned how innovative software and mass data storage systems are creating a medical image depository that can enable medical professionals to manage data over an entire hospital or healthcare network.

At the Medical College of Wisconsin, the trade representatives caught a glimpse of the research activities being conducted at Wisconsin’s largest medical school. Proteomics, bioinformatics and bioinformatics are among the areas being funded as part of the college’s $120 million annual research budget.

Prodesse and TeraMEDICA were selected for the tour because they are typical of Wisconsin’s bioscience industry – small but aggressive, new but led by experienced managers, and producing products that can be sold in a global marketplace. They also represent two Wisconsin centers of excellence, diagnostics and medical imaging.

In addition to learning about the technology, the trade representatives got a short course on how Wisconsin’s bioscience community works together. The ties binding small companies such as Prodesse and TeraMEDICA to larger institutions such as the Medical College of Wisconsin or GE Healthcare were emphasized. The trade representatives also learned how the Wisconsin Department of Commerce, the Wisconsin Technology Council, Forward Wisconsin and other non-profit or civic groups work together to help international companies make the right contacts and find the right business partners or locations.

“We wanted to use our role as a facilitator to help draw attention to the Milwaukee area as a great place to work, play and live,” said Dean Amhaus, president of Spirit of Milwaukee.

If you’re looking for economic success stories in Wisconsin, look no further than those regions and communities that find ways to work as a team. Partnerships between business, academia and government are building new economic models in the Chippewa Valley, the Fox Valley, La Crosse and the Madison area. Now, it appears, the Milwaukee area is learning the lesson, as well.

Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. 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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