MONTGOMERY, Alabama – Officials believe the Alabama biosciences sector is poised for a healthy growth spurt after a weeklong trade mission to Europe added momentum to a strategic push to promote state bio companies and research organizations.
An Alabama team of bioscience firms, research outfits, trade experts, and economic development officials returned Friday, Oct. 24, from a business development and trade mission to Belgium and The Netherlands that fueled optimism about the sector’s growth prospects.
“This trade mission stands as a prime example of how those who represent Alabama’s bioscience firms are anticipating growth that will make this industry as large as the state’s automobile and aerospace sectors,” said Commerce Secretary Greg Canfield, who made presentations on the state’s life science sector in both countries.
During The Netherlands leg of the trip, the Alabama group toured the Leiden Bioscience Park, a leading European bioscience cluster that’s houses the oldest Dutch university and a wide variety of life science firms. While there, representatives of Alabama firms engaged in individual partnership meetings with Dutch bioscience contacts.
While in Rotterdam, the delegation visited the Erasmus Medical Center, one of Europe’s top medical institutes, with 13,000 staffers working in patient care, education, and scientific research. The group also met with Dutch representatives of Medtronic, the world’s largest medical technology company with $17 billion in annual sales.
Before arriving in The Netherlands, the Alabama delegation showcased the state’s biosciences sector in Belgium, which has placed a strong emphasis on developing its biotech industry over the past two decades. Read a full report on the Belgium trip.
‘ONE SMALL STEP’
Hilda Lockhart, director of the Alabama Department of Commerce’s International Trade Division, said the trade mission’s biosciences concentration allowed the Alabama delegation to get a close-up look at the industry in Europe while making contacts that could lead to collaborative relationships.
“We know this trade mission is just one small step taken to help support Alabama’s life sciences industry,” Lockhart said. “As the industry grows in the state, we are trying to increase our knowledge and understanding of it in order to implement programs and policies that can and will support additional growth.”
The Alabama Department of Commerce has made expanding the state’s biosciences sector a strategic priority, with a 2013 bio-focused trade mission to Norway and Sweden as well as a presence at the 2014 BIO International Convention, the industry’s biggest gathering.
“Each Alabama company on the trade mission to Belgium and The Netherlands benefited from one-on-one meetings and networking opportunities in both countries,” Lockhart said.
Alabama already possesses a thriving bioscience presence.
According to a Battelle/BIO report, bioscience industry employment in Alabama approached 13,000 in 2012, at 662 businesses and organizations. The state has a particularly strong focus in bioscience-related academic research and development, with nearly $5 billion in research expenditures annually. Alabama ranks No. 4 for R&D growth per capita, according to the Birmingham Business Alliance.
Recently, the state has seen significant momentum in job creation in the field, with more than 700 new jobs announced. Among the projects are Baxter International’s plans to expand its Opelika facility, the launch of Evonik’s global innovation center in Birmingham, and Steris Corp.’s move to relocate its global specialty services business headquarters to Birmingham.