Trouble in life-sciences paradise

April 12, 2010
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Think of life sciences centers in Indiana, and Bloomington is often mentioned in the same breath as Indianapolis, West Lafayette and Warsaw.

But Bloomington is struggling to keep its edge, suggests a package of stories that ran over the weekend in The Herald-Times. A link is here (subscription is required).

Bloomington has too few workers qualified to work at places like Cook Group, Boston Scientific and Baxter Healthcare, the newspaper reported. And Bill Cook, a pioneering entrepreneur in the sector, chided the city for a lack of serious innovation.

“We have been talking ‘high-tech’ in this community for 30 years,” Cook is quoted as saying. “Not much has come of it. There is a lot of talk. I am not sure there are a whole lot of ideas.”

This is strong language from a billionaire whose sprawling company virtually single-handedly launched the industry in Bloomington.

Four years ago, Cook Group planned to make a new product line in Bloomington but had to send the work elsewhere because it couldn’t find enough workers. If the problem wasn’t a criminal record, it was inadequate education or poor hand-eye coordination.

Today, life sciences accounts for 6.8 percent of local jobs in the Bloomington area. But hardly any innovations are coming out of Bloomington, Cook chided; nearly all of interest to Cook Group are discovered in West Lafayette, Indianapolis or elsewhere.

Life sciences is supposed to be one of the bright spots in Bloomington to replace jobs like those lost at Thomson Consumer Electronics’ television assembly plant and General Electric’s refrigerator plant. Also keep in mind that Bloomington is supposed to be one of those places state economic development experts don’t need to worry about. In addition to the stability of employment at Indiana University, life sciences is supposed to bulk up advanced manufacturing employment and, at least to some extent, create highly paid research positions.

How do you feel about life sciences in Bloomington? Across the state?

  • The Emporer Has No Clothes!!!
    The biggest reason that our State has been so far behind in the biotech/pharma/medical device arena is because we have one just one medical school. Even Kentucky has 2 medical schools. Our one medical school cannot even compete with the top tier medical institutions across the country. We, as a State, cannot even provide the infrastructure to conduct the clinical trials for new drugs/medical devices for new companies in our State or other companies in general. Our State desperately needs several research medical schools to bring our State up to par with our immediate neighbor states before we can even consider competing with other areas of the country. We have been naked for years and have been too blind to notice!!!
  • Perceptions of trouble
    It's marvelous how an innocuous article in a third-rate newspaper is blown into introspection on the viability of life science efforts in the state. Bill Cook is looking for people with good hand-eye coordination, and somehow that's linked to bulking up on advanced manufacturing employment? I guess these days an IU two-year Biotechnology degree give one the opportunity leverage their good hand-eye coordination. Now others take this message as the need for more medical schools and the State to provide more infrastructures for clinical trials. Why must the State provide these funds? Over the past decade, too many State funds have been thrown at universities to improve life science infrastructure with a questionable ROI. (Just look at the 21st Century Fund results.) Want to do clinicals, pull a Lilly and outsource it. That's why CROs are proliferating, even for Phase 1 clinicals. Cook says hardly any innovations are coming out of Bloomington, but can be found in other parts of the State. The lack of innovation permeates a lot of activities in Bloomington. There are a few bright spots, but maybe the lack of innovation is due to the lack of vision or leadership in the area? Could be that floating in the bureaucracy of the risk averse academic environment is a belief that more State-funded infrastructure will magically produce scientific breakthroughs? Or, could it be that value-focused leadership, willing to take risks, seeking funds from alternative sources, and not afraid to upset the status-quo in a stodgy institution, is what is required to spark innovation in Bloomington. I'll believe the latter, but the person will probably need to be recruited from outside of Indiana.

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