Wisconsin’s biohealth industry comprises 4,320 firms statewide accounting for 107,616 jobs and $47.8 billion worth of economic output for the state. These figures demonstrate not only a significant impact for Wisconsin’s economy, but also the global reach of innovation taking place here, as biomedical discoveries made by research institutions and companies in Wisconsin help improve lives worldwide. Acknowledging Wisconsin’s long history of technological advancement, a panel of industry representatives considered what the future holds for the state’s biohealth industry at the 2018 Wisconsin Biohealth Summit in Madison on Oct. 9.
Referring to a Wisconsin Biohealth Industry 2018 Impact Snapshot published by BioForward Wisconsin, the state’s biohealth industry advocacy organization, Promega Vice President of Communications Penny Patterson said, “The numbers don’t tell the whole story, but they tell us there’s a story there.” Indeed, while the biohealth industry in Wisconsin is thriving, Catalent Biologics Vice President of Operations Brian Riley pointed out that it represents only 6 percent of the world’s industry workforce and 5 percent of its businesses. All panelists agreed that while Wisconsin is poised to make even greater contributions to easing suffering and improving quality of life globally.
The industry representatives cited infrastructure and talent as critical ingredients of a thriving biohealth ecosystem. Riley made a case for incubator space that serves as a magnet for companies seeking to tap into industry research. “The capital will follow,” he posited, pointing to the successful development of incubators in Boston. “Companies want to be there.”
While economic incentives to companies for relocating to the state should be considered, panel moderator Matthew Williams of AbbVie suggested greater focus needed to be given to growing the companies already operating in Wisconsin. While AbbVie’s headquarters is just north of Chicago, Williams and his family reside in Brookfield, Wisconsin, a decision driven by the quality of life and education system in the area—factors that all panelists felt needed to be marketed to people looking for the best and most affordable location to pursue a career in biohealth.
Plexus Market Sector Vice President Mike Tendick noted that talent recruitment was especially challenging in Neenah, Wisconsin, where his company is located; however, the vast majority of employees who spend time in Plexus’ other domestic and overseas locations, which is encouraged, eventually come home. “Boomerangs want to raise their families here,” Riley concurred.
Wisconsin’s culture and work ethic were also cited as draws—for both biohealth companies and workers. And the collaboration with in the industry here is unique, according to the panelists. “Competitors become collaborators, and an expanded ecosystem benefits everyone,” said Titan Spine CEO Peter Ullrich. “It also helps with benchmarking,” added Patterson. “Promega and Exact Sciences helped each other out through the years.”
As for promoting the industry’s value to lawmakers and other stakeholders, Williams captured the overall spirit of the 2018 Wisconsin Biohealth Summit in advising, “The work you do, the impact you have, and how you tell your story are critically important.”