Beacon Council ventures to Germany to lure biomed firms
By Zachary S. Fagenson
The Beacon Council is still running a full-court press to bring domestic and international healthcare, research and pharmaceutical companies here and says it expects the industry to continue growing locally and nationally.
But, the county's economic development organization says, recent improvements in Miami-Dade education need to be buttressed to make the region more competitive.
Healthcare, research and pharmaceuticals have long been one of the council's targeted industries and it's likely to be one in the future as well.
"For life sciences, and that includes pharmaceuticals and medical devices, we're very optimistic on two different levels," said Jaap Donath, council vice president of research. "Nationally or internationally, it's a growing industry so there's potential from a larger universe of companies that are expanding into new markets, products, services and geographically.
"And then locally there's a lot that's been happening over the last several years," he added.
Work continues to move along at the University of Miami Life Sciences and Technology Park, where university, business and civic leaders hope research will be commercialized. Florida International University last year launched its medical school, while the University of Miami purchased Cedars Medical Center in 2007.
This month medical device manufacturer Becton, Dickinson and Co. is to open a $20 million manufacturing facility in Northwest Miami-Dade. The project has been in the works two years, said Beacon Council President and CEO Frank Nero.
Meanwhile, the agency is sending Mr. Donath on the road next month to represent the agency and the county at two of the world's largest medical trade shows.
The first, BIO-Europe, is an annual biotech conference that this year is to be in Munich. The event "attracts leading dealmakers from biotech, pharma[ceutical] and finance along with the most exciting emerging companies," according to its website.
On the last day of BIO-Europe, Nov. 17, Medica, which attracts about 4,300 exhibits and 138,000 visitors from more than 100 countries, kicks off in Düsseldorf and is prominently a medical device show.
For the large companies, Mr. Donath said he'll focus on pitching Miami as a base from which they can access Latin America. Small startups or midsize companies will be told the region is a good place to access the US market and expand.
"There are only so many large pharmaceutical or medical device companies," Mr. Donath pointed out. "The… approach for the big guys [is] Latin American headquarters. That's where we can fill a niche for them."
And in attracting companies of any size, Mr. Nero said the Beacon Council has a formidable toolbox, though it could be improved to make the region more competitive than North Carolina's research triangle, for example.
Again, the region's strengths include the rising life sciences park adjacent to the Health District as well as the myriad research projects conducted by University of Miami and the establishment of the medical school at Florida International University.
Additionally, the current state of the sector plays a big part.
Potential companies want to know "who else is here," Mr. Nero said. "They want to know that there's the labor pool, that if they lose a scientist they have the ability to recruit a similar skill set."
And while all companies look at the cost of moving to and doing business at a potential relocation site, several facets of education also play heavily into whether medical companies decide to relocate to Miami-Dade or set up Latin America headquarters here.
"It's the quality of schools. Clearly, these people want to know what we're turning out in the area of engineers and scientists," Mr. Nero said. "The reality of it is that you need to find the workers and workforce, but you will also need to provide excellence of education for employees and their children that are coming in."
Though both Mr. Nero and Mr. Donath were bullish on the growth potential of the industry, just how much it could grow in coming years is a question that will be asked during the agency's renewed One Community One Goal effort.
One Community One Goal began in the mid-'90s as a Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce effort and identified seven sectors — biomedical, film and entertainment, financial services, information technology, telecommunications, international commerce and the visitor industry — as industries that could create enough jobs to keep up with the county's population growth.
The renewed effort will seek to benchmark the progress in those areas and might suggest modification to one of those industries.
But in healthcare and biotechnology, it seems likely all will stay the course.
"I think this is still a growth industry. Clearly that's one of the issues that will be evaluated," Mr. Nero said. "I think we need a little bit more research and empirical evaluation to look at its full potential."