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Trouble in life-sciences paradise

April 12, 2010

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?

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