05 Dec Panel stresses drawing outside biotech firms to state
Fitchburg, Wis. — If Wisconsin is to attract the presence of major pharmaceutical companies from out of state, it first has to focus on its own environment, said a panel assembled Monday night by the Wisconsin Biotechnology and Medical-Devices Association.
“Part of building the future today in Wisconsin has to do with attracting large corporations,” said WBMA President and EraGen CEO Irene Hrusovsky.
Woody Hydrick, a senior consultant with Cushman and Wakefield’s Business Incentives Group, discussed the differences between research and development, in which scientists are encouraged to experiment, versus the manufacturing end, where everyone must follow a strict formula day in and day out.
As such, a state has to figure out how to leverage the scientific talent they have towards the final ends of business, which in the end becomes much like traditional manufacturing in terms of laying out facilities, offering tax incentives and generally fostering a climate friendly to investors.
“Science for science’s sake is great, and I’m glad people to do it,” Hydrick said, “but I’m in a real world where people get paid at the end of the day.”
Hydrick offered an example of how a pre-existing environment can determine a business’s choice of locales. When he noted that Pfizer locates its main distribution center in Memphis, and asked what in Memphis would lead a major pharmaceutical company to put their distribution center there, scattered voices in the crowd almost immediately piped up with the answer: “FedEx.”
John Neis, a senior partner with Madison-based Venture Investors, recommended that Wisconsin’s biotech community work on fostering a few companies with breakthrough technology that in turn partner with or work on being acquired by the larger pharmaceuticals, whetting the big companies’ appetites for what the state’s talent pool has to offer.
“It makes a lot of the benefits that you’re trying to pitch to them a lot more tangible, and a lot more real and credible in that kind of process,” Neis said.
Neis also said Wisconsin and other Midwestern states could benefit through thinking collectively and working to harmonize tax credit policies, which would foster a business climate more receptive to business and benefit all the states involved.
“We need to think like a European Union equivalent here in the Midwest, to try and take it to the next level and really generate some of the benefits of the resources we have in this part of the country.”
Dan Broderick, managing director for Mason Wells, agreed with overall message of companies partnering with larger firms and the states working together on regulations, but also added that it was important for the state to know when to not act. Broderick cited repeated attempts in Wisconsin to pass legislation regulating stem-cell research or cloning techniques, which he said send potential investors a bad message about coming to Wisconsin.
“The legislature needs to be careful with what topics they debate and how business-friendly are they, and to understand there are ramifications of what they debate,” Broderick said.
“There’s a lot of talk about encouraging other industry to come in, large industry to come in,” said audience member Laura Strong, vice president of product development for UW spin-off company Quintessence Biosciences. “But really focusing on what are our strengths, what can we offer that other areas can’t, I think that’s a topic of conversation that doesn’t really get a lot of play time, or isn’t focused on a lot.”
“I think that we are good at the development stage of cancer therapy,” said Strong. “I think for companies like us, bringing in partners who could then carry that drug through clinical trials, through registration and marketing, those would feed into the strengths that we have as a company.”