Chances are better today than they were a few weeks ago that in 2028 and beyond, Minnesota will be among the states that are home to a globally competitive biosciences industry.
That's the result of months of negotiating by Minnesota House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher, DFL-Minneapolis, several senior House DFLers, and University of Minnesota officials. Word went out last week from House Capital Investments chair Alice Hausman: "We have a deal."
Their accord, now before the 2008 Legislature for approval, would authorize the construction of four buildings in a biosciences campus already under construction north and east of the new TCF Bank football stadium. (A fifth building was authorized in 2006.) Under the arrangement, the state would be committed to paying the debt service on $233 million of the $292 million bond issue the project requires.
But -- significantly -- the bonds' issuer would be the university, not the state. It's the same arrangement used to finance the new stadium. But it's a change from previous versions of the biosciences campus proposal, and it's crucial to winning over previously skeptical House members. With this change, the biosciences buildings won't vie with other projects for limited state bonding dollars.
Better still, the buildings can be built more quickly than originally proposed. That's crucial if Minnesota is to succeed in the competition for research talent that's in full swing among states contending for a biosciences future. The new arrangement would allow all four buildings to be completed by January 2013.
The buildings will be a robust contributor to the state's economy in their own right, housing about 4,800 new hires and generating $100 million to $120 million a year in federal research grants.
But their bigger promise lies in the job-producing potential of new companies that will be spawned by the knowledge they generate. They can be the locus of the next generation of "medical alley" comercial ventures for Minnesota, based less on devices and more on molecular and cellular manipulation to ease human suffering. Venture capital firms are already inquiring about the plans, attests Frank Cerra, the university's senior vice president for health sciences.
Another plus: Research vigor in the interdisciplinary biosciences field is bound to spur growth in related fields -- science, technology, engineering, mathematics -- also vital to the knowledge-based economy Minnesota seeks.
At a time when a weak economy is tightening budgets and fueling worry, the university's biosciences plan represents hope. Legislators and the governor will be given no better opportunity this session to do something positive for Minnesota's economic future. It's an opportunity they should seize.