Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Ford: If Singapore can, we can

By Doug Ford/thereporter.com
Posted: 05/04/2012 01:06:09 AM PDT

Last week's Solano Economic Development Corp. breakfast provided excellent food for thought for Solano leaders. Sandy Person and her staff have been doing a truly great job. The program on "Industry Clusters as Assets" featured keynote speaker Dr. Robert Eyler, professor of economics at Sonoma State University. His talk complemented all the good work that has been done through the economic summits and the Solano Economic Index during the past few years.
Dr. Eyler described in general terms what we need to do, such as prepare a complete list of our assets and develop answers to the questions he raised: "What assets exist to support this industry and these companies? What assets are missing and need to be found to support this industry and these companies?"
The first step is an asset inventory. Solano is fortunate in having life sciences as its fastest-growing cluster. We have tremendous resources in the University of California campus in Davis -- the most life science-oriented campus in the UC system. One of the first things that Linda Katehi did after she became chancellor was to appoint a blue ribbon committee to review technology transfer and commercialization. An excellent presentation available on her website is "The Role of Universities in Innovation."

So our primary asset is the tremendous brainpower we have in the university. We need to become much better acquainted with all it has to offer.

At the center of our life sciences cluster, we have the Genentech plant in Vacaville -- the largest pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in the world and regularly rated as one of the best companies to work for in the United States.

At Solano Community College, we have the first program created to train workers for biotechnology manufacturing. In the Benicia, Fairfield-Suisun and Vallejo unified school districts, we have high school academies in biotechnology, in which students earn college credit while still in high school.

We have strong educational support for our life sciences cluster, but we have plenty of room to improve.

To complete the work that needs to be done in collecting information about our assets, organizing it to make it easily available to all who need it so we can develop improvement plans will require more staff than Solano EDC now has.

In previous columns, I have briefly described the phenomenal growth of the Singapore economy. It was made possible by the Singapore Economic Development Board, which does for Singapore what the Solano EDC was created to do for Solano County.

Singapore's "life sciences cluster is a growth industry that will be developed as one of the key pillars of Singapore's manufacturing sector," according to BioSpace.com. "In 1999, the life sciences sector grew by 60 percent in output to reach $6.3 billion with value added jumping 75 percent to $5.2 billion."

Singapore, a nation one-quarter the size of Solano County and with enormous handicaps, focused on creating a life science cluster after we have. Now they are a prime competitor. We need to get busy!

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The author is retired from the U.S. Air Force, lives in Dixon and serves on the Solano County Board of Education.