Monday, September 15, 2008

Biotech Future

The Athens Banner-Herald included a fascinating round table discussion on the future of biotech in the Northeast Georgia region in Sunday's paper.

First of all, a pat on the back for what is a very substantive article; these kinds of roundtables on a variety of key industries in Athens would be great for readers. I also think it is great that they included the perspective of Mike Wanner and Frank Milward, who both offer valuable private sector perspectives from both the small and large corporate sectors.

I thought Milward's point about agriculture being a key towards the end was particularly salient. Given our state's history and our continuing reliance on agriculture (both plant and animal) I often wonder why we don't focus our biotech investments more aggressively into those areas. Indeed, one of our most unique local biotech start-ups involves genetic crop modification. Our state is a leading exporter of poultry and pork, as well as other row crops.

It just so happens that we have a fading federal institution in Oconee County called the "Experiment Station." Its original purpose was agricultural innovation and experimentation, but some in Washington believe its work is done. We can't defend the status quo forever, especially with a congressman who does not believe in earmarks. This area needs to articulate a future vision for this space.

Since those in the article and elsewhere are decrying the need for laboratory and incubator space, wouldn't it make sense to have an agricultural innovation incubator/biotech hub atop the hill on "Experiment Station" road adjacent to Highway 441? Preserve the surrounding greenspace for experimentation. Across the street you'll find Gainesville College and adjacent is UGA's horticulture farm. How about we take the buildings -- or add new ones -- and create a 21st century complex that could revitalize the mission of the station and accomplish its original goal -- to provide better crops and agricultural products to Americans through cutting edge research through a joint public-private investment in research.

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