Comments prior to Joseph Cortright's talk "Signs of Life: Clustering of Biotechnology in US Metropolitan Areas" based on Cortright's report for the Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, released in June 2002. Comments delivered at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, September 12, 2002

by William Hoffman

I appreciate the opportunity for MBBNet to be a co-sponsor of this talk by Joseph Cortright. As Lee Munnich said, I'm with the University's Biomedical Engineering Institute, in communications.

MBBNet - the Minnesota Biomedical and Bioscience Network - is I believe the largest regional Internet gateway in the world in the life sciences and health care fields, with more than 1130 regional organizations now accessible world wide from the gateway. They include our medical technology companies and supporting industries, which Joseph Cortright does not include in his study. But I would argue that there are many areas of convergence between medtech and biotech and these areas -- biomaterials, regenerative medicine, targeted drug delivery -- represent real economic opportunity for Minnesota. So does biocatalysis for industrial biotechnology, an initiative being led by Dean Elde of the College of Biological Sciences and Dean Davis of the Institute of Technology and their faculty. Plus we may have opportunities in other areas of medicine, agriculture, and environmental science.

As you know, regionalism is on the rise around the world, as are bioregions in advanced economies. More people will live in urban-regions than rural areas for the first time during this century. Which is why I believe regional Web gateways or portals for interconnected industries and institutions -- or clusters -- are a good idea.

The Internet showed up in the center where I was working in late 1994. I had read Michael Porter's paper "How information gives you competitive advantage" published in 1985 and I was passingly familiar with his 1990 book The Competitive Advantage of Nations in which he describes clusters.

I was also aware of Lee Munnich's nationally recognized work on clusters. In 1995 Lee co-authored with the Metro Council a cluster study of the Twin Cities area, which included medical devices. In 1997 I attended one of Lee's conferences called "Innovations in Economic Development" just the Internet was picking up steam.

Michael Porter borrows a metaphor from evolutionary biology to describe the emergence of clusters in his 1990 book, plus he peppers his description of clusters with terms like links, linkages, interconnections, networks, communications channels and interactivity. This, of course, is the language of the Web.

But the real work of cluster building happens on the ground, or, as Dean Elde has put it, in the pubs. No one yet has figured out how to encode subtle gestures or facial expressions. This isn't meant to be a plug for pubs but rather for the "social networks" that are at the core of knowledge-based industry building, something Joseph Cortright knows a lot about. This is where our excellent trade associations -- MNBIO, Medical Alley, the Minnesota High Tech Association -- organizations like Minnesota Technology, Inc., networks like MedicalSuds, our business services and smart investors really play an important role.

One of the most exciting aspects of this work for me personally has been relationship building with other parts of the world. Two years ago this month the MBBNet - Zurich MedNet Link was dedicated here at the University and at the Swiss Embassy in Washington, DC. Zurich MedNet is a public-private partnership of the Greater Zurich Area, including the city of Winterthur. Last Monday Mayor Kelly of St. Paul and Burgermeister Napp of Neuss, Germany, home to 3M Medica, signed an agreement to cooperate in biotech development. I believe you'll see a lot more of this regional "reaching out" as we move into the 21st century.

Thank you. --

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