Local leaders want Tampa to be in the business of biotech

02/06/12 Janelle Irwin
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As Florida’s unemployment rate lingers around ten percent, community and leaders are looking for new ways to bring in more jobs. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has his eye on biotechnical companies. At a business of biotech conference at Moffitt Cancer Center today, Buckhorn said they will create more meaningful employment in the area.

Buckhorn wants his city to be more than just a tourist hot spot known for its close proximity to theme parks and beaches. He wants jobs in the Tampa Bay area to be quality, high paying and long lasting. Buckhorn said those are qualities the entire state is lacking.

“You know, this state has been so dependent on real estate for so long that we built subdivisions for people that didn’t even exist. We were driven by cheap land and cheap labor and cheap taxes and we told people to come here, and they did. But they weren’t creating the kinds of value added jobs and the opportunities for high technology, and more importantly, giving us a platform to compete for the best and the brightest in the country.”

Buckhorn says biotech is an industry he’d like to get his hands on.

“The research that you are doing is groundbreaking. But more importantly, the opportunities that you are providing for young people to come and grow and for us to attract those best and brightest kids. You see, because there was a time once in this city when we were known as America’s next great city. We were that city of the future. We were that city where the best and the brightest wanted to be. They wanted to come here and be a part of that experiment. Not just Moffitt, but an emerging Sunbelt technology community. They wrote about us. They talked about us. They said we were a city of destiny. And somehow along the way, we lost our way. But you know what? We’re back on track.”

Former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker now works for the University of South Florida trying to facilitate partnerships with companies specializing in science and technology. Baker said attracting them to Florida is a fool-proof way to boost job opportunities for Floridians.

“They all need employees and a lot of the other industries don’t need employees and we have – if you are highly skilled in a STEM area (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), you can find a job. You can find a good job in America today. If you are not highly skilled, you’re going to have a hard time finding a job right now. So we have to get people skilled in these technologies, in the STEM area, but also continue to try to attract biotech companies, technology companies, because that’s going to be a major, major industry of the future.”

And the conference’s keynote speaker Dr. Risa Stack said companies that conduct research on diagnosing illnesses and responding to them efficiently will do more than just create jobs, they’ll save patients both time and money.

“We can’t keep spending tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on therapy for patients that aren’t going to respond to it. So, I think it’s really necessary that we try to contain healthcare costs today.”

It’s an investment Stack says needs to develop. She compared it to advances in mobile phone technology. If someone had said ten years ago that people could check email from their phone, it wouldn’t have been taken seriously.

“I think we need to think about healthcare the same way. As information gets better about our health in the form of complex diagnostics, shouldn’t we be willing to pay for it? Shouldn’t our healthcare system be willing to pay for it especially if it may result in better treatment and eliminate tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs for patients? Seems like a pretty simple proposition doesn’t it?”

Governor Rick Scott has said Florida needs to maintain low corporate taxes to be attractive to high tech companies. He’s also created a task force to determine the best ways to draw biotech companies to the state. The tax cuts doled out to multi-million dollar companies are controversial in part because some people think jobs have not been increased enough.

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