What is BIO?
In mid-May, Atlanta is hosting “BIO 2009.” While not as sexy as “March Madness,” or “Dragoncon,” this International Biotechnology convention will bring some 20-thousand top decision makers to the city from around the world.
In the first of our new series, BIO on My Mind, Susan Mittleman takes a look at what is BIO, and why it matters to Georgia.
In Albany Georgia, John Tharpe showed us around his production plant and the test unit he’s built- to make bio-diesel from pine chips.
This semi-retired electrical engineer is doing what he’s been excited about since 6th grade- using renewable resources to produce energy.
“We use biomass to make an oil, a char and then we are also looking now at making electrical energy.”
Tharpe is one of many innovative minds shaping the BIO industry here in Georgia. Bio-Energy is just one segment of the life-science industry that is changing the way we live.
From the fuels that run our cars, to the food that feeds our bodies, to the medicines and devices that help keep our hearts pumping.
“Bio science has a very important strategic statewide economic impact on state of Georgia.”
Ken Stewart is Georgia’s Commissioner for Economic Development. While the rest of the economy has been taking a nosedive, Stewart says Bio is the one industry segment here in Georgia that actually grew last year!
“There are 62,000 people who work in this business, according to study by Shape and Infinity, and the industry contributed 16 billion dollars to our economy in the last year. Salaries are 68% higher than average private sector job, so naturally, it’s an industry we fully intend to grow in the state.”
So where are these jobs? They’re developing disease resistant crops or pharmaceuticals to cure cancer, or making cleaner, greener fuels. New business models are taking shape, in everything from large manufacturing plants to small biotech start-ups.
Eric Tomlinson, co-chair of Georgia Bio, the industry’s trade association, is CEO of one such company, Altea Therapeutics.
“The last 10-15 years have spawned thousands of these small bioscience companies driven by the fact that your nimble, you’re able to harness the intellectual, entrepreneurial power of small groups of engineers and scientists, without being burdened by the structure of a large multinational company.”
Georgia is competing with places like California, Massachussettes, and North Carolina.
But the state is banking on its universities and research institutions, its relatively low cost of doing business, and it’s vast amount of natural resources, to bring and keep business here.
Still, attracting capital is a challenge.
Of the top 12 states for Venture Capital investment, Georgia is at the bottom of the list. And that concerns people like Scott Hampton. He’s founder and president of The Medical Device Development Group, and works with start-up companies.
“Across the industry, you’ve got to have the universities, but you’ve got to have the venture capital, and the support of government and you’ve got to have the cultural capital within community that allows you to retain and attract people long term.”
But Commissioner Stewart says Georgia is a place where people want to do business.
“Atlanta attracted more of the young and restless than any other city in America and this was in 2007. And the young and restless are 24-35 years old, typically with advanced degrees. We’re the third fastest growing state in country in terms of numbers. People want to come here, and when they come here they don’t want to leave.”
Along with some tax incentives, the state is putting energy into education, workforce development programs and partnerships with private industry. And landing the BIO 2009 conference here was a big step to putting Georgia BIO on the world map.