I return to my deep roots in Arizona humbled by the profound opportunity before me – to lead an organization I have long admired for its track record in quietly but effectively improving the quality of life for Arizonans. While eager and enthusiastic, I am also daunted by the challenges facing our state.
When I left Arizona two years ago to become a university administrator in California, Arizona was flush. Houses were selling at a frenetic pace, growth was rampant, jobs were being created and filled, budgets were ample. I now return to an Arizona fraught with foreclosures, job losses, bankruptcies, and the nation’s worst state budget deficit in percentage terms. My longtime home state is among the nation’s hardest-hit by the recession.
In California, I witnessed firsthand a state paralyzed by uncompromising forces in responding to its economic crisis. The chances of California wriggling out of its gridlock anytime soon are slim. I see parallels developing in Arizona. Policy decisions frequently are being driven by ideology rather than practical solution, too often through hasty, short-term fixes that disregard the quality of life of future generations.
Despite the doom and gloom, I am genuinely excited by Arizona’s future prospects. I believe Arizona has the opportunity to emerge stronger and more competitive. Though it sounds trite, Arizona has a tradition of meaningful collaboration across institutions and sectors. We are young, agile, less entrenched, and adept at pioneering new ways to address traditional problems. The key ingredient to this re-emergence is civic leadership, something the state, at all levels, must cultivate to preserve a healthy future outlook. Without effective civic leadership, present-day interests such as the state’s bioscience initiative are threatened, as well as Arizona’s long-term quality of life and prosperity.
Biosciences: An economic diversifier
It’s ironic that the Flinn Foundation launched its bioscience initiative during the last economic downturn. In 2002, the Foundation commissioned Arizona’s Bioscience Roadmap, a 10-year plan by Battelle to bring Arizona to bioscience competitiveness. The Roadmap relies heavily on cooperative leadership, encouraging public-private partnerships and collaboration among statewide leaders in academia, business, and government to meet mutual goals.
That same year, the Foundation helped to recruit Dr. Jeffrey Trent to Arizona to form the Translational Genomics Research Institute, or TGen. These developments aimed to capitalize on the dual benefits of the biosciences: to enhance the health and well being of Arizonans through the latest medical products and therapies; and to strengthen and diversify the state’s economic base.
The biosciences involve high-paying, quality jobs. In today’s dollars, the average bioscience job in Arizona pays more than $52,000, well above the private-sector average. Bioscience jobs have a wonderful ripple effect. Each generates another five jobs in related areas – suppliers, marketers, attorneys, and architects, for example. This can help to diversify a cyclical state economy reliant on real-estate development and tourism for generations, and to weather economic storms such as the cyclone we face today.
This is not to suggest the biosciences are the sole solution to Arizona’s economic woes. Other knowledge-based industries must grow and prosper as well, such as optics, software, renewable energy, information technology and communications, to name a few. The biosciences are a good example of the type of economic activity Arizona must pursue to create a prosperous future. TGen, in a very short timeframe, has achieved success and recognition on an international scale. It’s indicative of the growth that has occurred from Flagstaff to Tucson in building the state’s biomedical research infrastructure, and the state’s collective ability to turn research into jobs, firms, and products.
Five years of Roadmap data paint a picture of progress and promise. Arizona has become one of the fastest-growing bioscience states in the nation. Bioscience jobs are growing three times faster here than the nation as a whole. The number of bioscience firms is increasing at a similar pace. We’ve turned around our performance in securing grants from the National Institutes of Health, gaining ground on the top states rather than falling further behind every year.
The economic impact is being felt, despite starting with a modest-sized industry base. In 2007, the biosciences accounted for $12.5 billion in economic activity and contributed $765 million in state and local taxes. These figures have grown 57 percent and 35 percent, respectively, since the Roadmap was launched in 2002. Projections are jaw-dropping for the future, so long as the private and public commitment and investments continue.