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Workforce, cost boost Colo. biotech

By Paula Aven Gladych
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — The success of the bioscience industry in Colorado is “crucial to the area’s future.”

That was the message from Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper last week as he addressed a crowd of biotech industry participants at the 2004 BioWest conference.

“We’re committed to the area growing as a hotbed of biotechnology and research,” he said.

Denver and Aurora have invested time and energy into turning the former Fitzsimons Army Medical Center site into a biotech hub.

Currently, Boulder County is the largest biotech corridor in the state, hosting more than 50 percent of Colorado’s pharmaceutical and biotech companies, said John Cody, president and CEO of the Longmont Area Economic Council.

“Biotech remains an industry target for us in terms of growing the industry here. We remain actively involved in initiatives related to the growing biotech industry,” he said.

And although the entire state would like to bring in more companies, “Price is driving deals in this country right now because of the economic situation we’re in,” said Cody. “We’re not price competitors.”

Colorado doesn’t offer companies moving in any incentives beyond some personal property tax relief and a small amount of research and development credits, he said.

But, compared to San Francisco, Boston or San Diego, the country’s top biotech hubs, Colorado is “cost friendly. The cost of doing business is significantly cheaper here and we have a well-trained workforce,” he added.

Richard Mejia, a partner with Ernst & Young in San Diego, said he believes biotech will become profitable by 2008.

“Global revenues are up 17 percent,” he said, from $32 billion in 2002 to $39 billion at the end of 2003.

Ernst & Young predicts biotech revenues will reach $50 billion by 2005 and $90 billion by 2008.

“The industry at the end of 2003 looks very strong, particularly when you look at where it was coming from in 2002 and 2001,” he said.

Ernst & Young predicts the number of biotech and biopharm companies going public will increase in 2005 and the number of financings also will increase.

In 2003, $18.5 billion of new cash was invested in biotech companies, compared to $10.5 billion in 2002, Mejia said.

Other positive signs for the industry include faster approval times at the U.S. Food & Drug Administration and the overall number of products being approved.

In 2003, 200 biotech products were approved globally, he said.

In Colorado, “we tend to be reactive to the economy, not proactive,” said Brian Vogt, director of the Office of Economic Development & International Trade.

To create more jobs and become more proactive, the state has to continue working toward integration of government, public and private organizations, he said.

One of the things that has changed in the past five years is “every community was doing their own thing. No governments were working with educational institutions,” said Mayor Ed Tauer of Aurora.

Communication also needs to be improved, Vogt said.

“It’s of no value if we offer services and we have no idea what they are,” he said.

In the past five years, “we’ve had quite an evolution. We’re not just collaborating, but have full cooperation” between governments, private institutions and businesses, Vogt said.

Policy change is another key to job growth. Colorado needs to take a hard look at what other states are doing, he said.

“We want to be competitive with cities around the country,” he said.

Paula Aven Gladych can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 211, or by e-mail at pavengladych@times-call.com.