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Indy corporate leaders eye nutrition initiative

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The group that oversees Indiana’s economic development initiatives aimed at life sciences, information technology, transportation and clean technology is moving toward a fifth thrust focused on nutrition.

David Johnson, CEO of Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, said his group has been asked by major agriculture-related stakeholders throughout the state to look at “possibly” creating the initiative.

“That’s something we’re going to do,” Johnson said in a Sept. 3 interview.

CICP, a group of 55 corporate and university CEOs in Indiana, already has laid a fair bit of groundwork. That's because CICP’s life sciences initiative, BioCrossroads, published a report a year ago detailing the huge assets Indiana has in ag-related biotech.

Those assets, the report argued, could be harnessed to find ways to feed the world’s fast-growing population without the addition of land or water resources.

“It is the combination of traditional agricultural production capacity and the agricultural-related science and technology assets Indiana possesses that make it uniquely positioned to address and capitalize on the larger global trends that are going to reshape the agricultural industry over the next several decades,” Beth Bechdol, an Ice Miller consultant and former executive with the state agriculture department, wrote in the BioCrossroads report.

Since that report was issued, Johnson, who is also CEO of BioCrossroads, has spearheaded an effort to start the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute, which would be a joint effort of Indiana’s life sciences companies and universities to do research focused on metabolic diseases, such as diabetes.

Also since the report was issued, Johnson said, some of the key players in Indiana’s ag biotech industry have indicated they’d be willing to provide funding for an initiative focused on nutrition.

“There’s a huge amount of interest in this area,” Johnson said.

He mentioned research published in 2000 by Ohio-based consulting firm Battelle, which identified life sciences, information technology, transportation and advanced manufacturing as the areas with the most economic promise in Indiana.

“If Battelle were asked to come back and do another study today, they would unquestionably put agriculture technology at the center of it,” Johnson said.

Indiana’s three biggest institutions focused on agriculture biotechnology are Purdue University; Dow AgroSciences LLC, a division of Michigan-based Dow Chemical Co.; and Elanco, the animal health division of Indianapolis-based Eli Lilly and Co.

Other tech-focused agriculture companies include Atlanta-based Beck’s Hybrids and Sheridan-based JBS United.

Purdue President Mitch Daniels announced last week that the university would direct $20 million in additional funding to its plant sciences research. And in a speech on Friday, he threw support behind the economic potential of ag biotech.

“Agriculture, at which we are very good, is a very, very high-tech business these days,” Daniels told the Economic Club of Indiana.

Johnson cautioned that CICP still must do the work necessary to see if there are enough projects that an agriculture initiative could tackle to sustain beyond a year or two. Until CICP makes that determination, it says its agriculture work is only a project, not a full-fledged initiative.

“It takes a year or two to really know if there’s a long-term initiative there or not,” Johnson said. But, he added, “We’re really excited about this.”

 

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