Industry reps eye expansion of bioscience

Representatives from several local businesses met Monday at ScienceWorks to find ways to expand the bioscience industry in Southern Oregon and to compete with other regions in the state.

They gathered for the Southern Oregon Bioscience Industry Consortium to plan and pool resources for success in the current economic climate.

"We are three companies in a 30-square-mile radius," said Jim Mau, local coordinator for SOBIC, "where in the Willamette, they are 30 companies in a three-mile radius. Currently, there are 33 companies in this association."

Oregon is where the bioscience industry is growing fastest, according to Mau. He said he believes Southern Oregon could be a leader in the industry. The consortium looked at the area workforce and resources and how to improve them.

"This part of Oregon is growing and it will continue to grow," Mau said. "We will get companies from the Bay Area and we are getting companies from the Seattle area. We need to demonstrate to these companies that this is where there is a workforce."

SOBIC is working on an education program to meet the need for a bioscience-oriented workforce in the area.

"We are looking at creating two- to four-hour classes where the employee could take the class and then apply what they have learned that afternoon when they return to work," Mau said. "We do have a workforce in this area and we would like to involve that and also try to get Southern Oregon University involved also."

The federal economic stimulus package is a force in the expansion of the industry, creating grant programs for bioscience development.

"The people who typically deal with federal grants are telling me the number of grants available is unprecedented," Mau said. "Grant writing is at an all-time level and grant-oriented development is an area to be concentrated on."

Mau said a challenge in the grant process is developing a regulatory mindset. Companies need to learn the processes of grant writing and the rules and regulations of dealing with federal agencies and funding, in essence, what it is like working in a FDA atmosphere.

The Oregon Biosciences Association is setting up a grants program to help cut through the red tape of the process. When the floor was opened for discussion, the grant process and workforce issues were the main topics.

Among the companies represented at the consortium were Tree Star, Microstein, Bank of the Cascades and Wells Fargo.

The bioscience industry in Oregon is one of the few growth areas in the state, contributing nearly $3.5 billion in direct revenue and employing 13,630 people, according to Mau. The industry impact is three times greater than the wine industry and employs twice the number of the agriculture and forestry support industry, he said. Biosciences comprise one-quarter of the health care industry and half of the energy sector.

"If, through the development of the bioscience industries throughout southern Oregon, we were to capture just one percent of this $3.5 billion, imagine what multiplier effect that $35 million would have on the local and regional economies," Mau said.

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