A Bright Spot for Memphis Business Growth

In a year-end 2010 wrap-up story, the Memphis Daily News referred to the Year of Resilience in which the bright spot in the local economy was that “Memphis’ hospitals, health care companies and biotechnology sector remained strong throughout 2010.” As we look toward 2011, there is no reason to think that this segment won’t have another strong year.

Why? Because the bioscience segments of orthopedics, research, clinical care and bioagriculture are each areas of national leadership in their own right. And, it is leadership in these areas that will take us out of the recessionary times and into high growth times.

Memphis’ biosciences and the infrastructure surrounding them had a strong year last year, even with the struggling economy. Just looking at the programs that Memphis Bioworks Foundation was involved in is interesting. And keep in mind, what we were involved in is just a part of the overall bioscience industry. The hospitals, research centers, educational institutions, and the various segments of the treatment and corporate institutions would have their own impressive lists.

As the New Year began, Memphis Bioworks Foundation was awarded a $2.9 million Energy Training Partnership Grant under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) Green Jobs Training Program. The two-year initiative funds programs to train area workers at local colleges for jobs in energy-efficiency and renewable energy occupations. Memphis was one of only 25 award recipients across the U.S. Our ability to train workers for the green jobs of the 21st Century economy will be important for many years to come.

Speaking of “green,” at Memphis Bioworks, we are very proud of our activities surrounding biological raw materials called biomass – agricultural crops and forestry materials which can effectively harness solar energy – which can then serve as the building blocks to replace petroleum in fuels, green chemicals, novel polymers, and many other materials. We are leading a five state regional initiative and were the host of Biomass South, a defining conference on the topic in September.

Our infrastructure growth for the biosciences continues to move forward. As the RBL and School of Pharmacy were moving toward completion on the UT-Baptist Research Park campus during the year, our existing Dudley Street Tower and a few support buildings were filling with start-up companies. At year-end, there were nearly 25 companies that we were working with in our own facilities and elsewhere. Our Research Park was also the topic of a key collaborative effort with the city last year. Just east of the planned new developments is a 20-story abandoned hotel. The city and Bioworks joined to receive of a $2-million grant from The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) as a part of funding for that hotel redevelopment and refurbishment.

Support of growing businesses and helping to move ideas from bench to market will be one of the driving forces of job creation coming out of the recession. At Innova, we took several steps forward during the past year. Most visible was the team’s work as a TNInvestco company and the launch in June of the Mid-South Angel Network. These two initiatives work hand-in-hand to leverage dollars brought into Memphis and dollars originating in Memphis, in support of great new ideas and concepts.

Of course, new companies and researchers need the most up-to-date and highest speed communications resources. To meet that need, July saw the official launch of the Memphis Coalition for Advanced Networking’s (MCAN) ultra high speed fiber-optic communications network. This 10-gigabit-per-second data network is almost 3,000 times faster than our current broadband. If you are in research at one of MCAN’s founding members – the University of Memphis, University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, or the Memphis Bioworks Foundation – you are now connected as if next door to the world’s fastest computer in Oak Ridge, the national Internet2 research network, a consortium of 200 universities, 70 leading corporations, 45 government agencies and 50 international partner organizations. MCAN will not only allow Memphis scientists to better participate in global research, it is also designed to generate economic benefit from advanced networking applications.

2010 was a busy year, and 2011 should prove to be even busier in the biosciences. Should a newspaper write a wrap-up of the Memphis economy at the end of this year, I have no doubt the biosciences will again be their “bright spot.”

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