Regional team huddles to leverage South Florida's life sciences assets
By Zachary S. Fagenson
Educational institutions, economic development agencies, life sciences companies and research institutes are looking to band together to lobby the state and put long-term plans on the same path in hopes of making Florida a Mecca for the life sciences.
A Life Sciences Corridor committee first met at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables in August "to see how we might be able to leverage the bioscience sector here in Florida but particularly in South Florida," said Beacon Council President and CEO Frank Nero.
"The feeling was that there is an opportunity, particularly if we can marry the education research institutions, the economic development entities as well as private sector companies in this field."
The group, which is not yet an official entity, comprises high-ranking education and economic development officials from across the state including Enterprise Florida President John Adams, Florida Gulf Coast University Provost Ronald Toll and Indian River State College President Ed Massey.
Locally, Mr. Nero, Florida International University President Mark Rosenberg along with university administrators, Miami Dade College Provost Rolando Montoya and University of Miami President Donna Shalala are involved.
The group meets next on Friday in Broward County with guest speaker state Sen. Jeremy Ring, a Margate Democrat and chair of Policy and Steering Committee on Commerce and Industry.
Its focus seems to be ensuring educational institutions across the state produce the workers the burgeoning industry will need, ensure collaboration between universities and private research institutes, and possibly pushing for additional state legislation or incentives for the industry.
"The sky's the limit," Mr. Nero said. "Clearly, I see cooperation among the educational institutions. I think cooperation between the economic development groups as well as the state [is needed] to make sure research and training and education are all in sync."
That might include "going to the state and crafting some inducements and incentives for this industry, from the educational side and the corporate location and expansion" side, he added.
He credited Dr. Rosenberg of FIU with the idea.
"It came out of a discussion that we had with Mark after he first became president about some of his initiatives," Mr. Nero said.
Dr. Rosenberg's focus, though, seems to be on how the state's education infrastructure can support the industry, which many civic, government and business leaders hope will be the next wealth-producing industry.
"We're trying to get everybody around the table in higher education that could play a role in bringing in business and some of the new research labs that have recently" located here, Dr. Rosenberg said. "We want to make sure that what we're doing what the industry needs.
"It's about jobs, and the universities have to be players in that and we are, but we've got to be far more intentional," he added.
Others want to make sure the right pieces of the puzzle are in place to support the businesses and research that are already here and help them grow.
"The state's invested a lot of money in attracting world-class research, and now we need to start making sure they succeed, and that means bringing the technology transfer programs, investment capital, maybe investment tax credits for spinoff companies," said Larry Pelton, president of the Economic Development Council of St. Lucie County.
St. Lucie County is home to the Torrey Pines Institute for Molecular Studies, The Vaccine and Gene Therapy Institute-Florida, The Mann Research Center and Digital Domain Florida, and Mr. Pelton wants to attract the businesses that will commercialize the discoveries the labs make and support them.
"My next step is not necessarily try to recruit more research institutes. My path is to try to bring in vendors and suppliers and the corporate linkages that will purchase or license the discoveries," he said. "We need medical instrumentation companies, we need laboratory equipment companies."