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The Palm Beach County's Business Development Board revealed a study pointing to the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in its mission to build a sustainable life science sector.
The report recommends:
• Creating a life science leadership group.
• Fostering awareness of what exists through marketing.
• Identifying industry players who have homes or other investments in South Florida to become involved.
• Enhancing the networking effort.
• Developing a regional identification and identity.
• Providing resources and support to both existing companies and startups.
• Partnering with Florida Atlantic University and other regional universities and life science institutes to catalyze entrepreneurial efforts.
First, the region must agree on an identity for the life science sector and communicate that to the industry's key players to attract new investment, community leaders said at a meeting unveiling the study.
"The hardest part is the execution of the study," said Kelly Smallridge, president of the Business Development Board, which commissioned the $55,000 draft study from Facility Logix in Maryland last August.
Monday's meeting was designed to get feedback on the study, an inventory of life science institutions, businesses and related organizations in the county as well as what elements are missing. Community feedback will be incorporated as county leaders consider the next steps to take.
Smallridge said she will meet in a week or so with two regional hospital CEOs helping to lead the effort: John Couris of Jupiter Medical Center and Gina Melby of JFK Medical Center. They will discuss creating a central organization of industry individuals to carry out recommendations and potentially hiring a new Business Development Board staff member to coordinate initiatives.
Couris, who began his career at Massachusetts General Hospital and is familiar with Boston's successful life science sector, said the study shows that "we're not where we want to be, but we'll get there. We have all the pieces."
Jupiter's Scripps Florida and Max Planck institutes "became the face of bioscience" for the county, Couris said.
Neil Merin of Merin Hunter Codman, one of the largest commercial real estate companies in the region, said, "I don't think we know what we are." One goal has been to attract a pharmaceutical company, which would create jobs, but that would be "far removed from Scripps," which is focused on research, he said, as an example.
Merin said a major issue to building a life science sector around Scripps and Max Planck is that the surrounding land in Jupiter is reserved for Scripps. "Other companies can't go there, unless they're related to Scripps," he said.
But Robert Barrett II, a senior adviser to Cross Keys Capital in Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach, said real estate isn't the problem.
He said the sector needs to focus on building existing companies, not investing in startups, and attract more investment to the region. "Look at the existing businesses we have and grow them," Barrett said.
Scripps Florida scientist Thomas Kodadek, who heads Scripps' Department of Cancer Biology, said the sector needs more physician-scientists. "That should be a key piece as we move forward," he said.
Couris and others pointed to FAU and the Research Park there as playing a greater role in the life science sector's growth.
Daniel Flynn, FAU's vice president of research, told the group it's important the county have a vision of where biomedical research is headed. "The danger is we could be recruiting yesterday's industry and that wouldn't help us at all," he said.
The 98-page life science industry sector draft can be found under "media center" and "publications" on bbb.org, or click bit.ly/1oh9TJu.
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