This economic opportunity can't be seized with tax cuts.
Looking in this campaign season for an appealing vision of Minnesota in 2020? Here's one: Minnesota can be known as the place that defeated diabetes -- that is, came up with a cure for some and more effective, less costly treatment for all who suffer from either Type 1 or Type 2 of the disorder that manifests itself with too much glucose in the blood. The state can also be home to the industries that produce and distribute new treatments for the disease.
That prospect is as appealing as any of the scenarios candidates have been describing when asked how they envision Minnesota's future. Curbing diabetes would do more than relieve human suffering. It also would pay a big economic dividend. Diabetes costs Minnesotans an estimated $2.7 billion a year, both in direct medical costs and associated losses of productivity, the American Diabetes Association says. A sizable share of that amount is borne by taxpayers.
This vision isn't pie-in-the-sky. Making diabetes rarer and more manageable is a goal that Minnesota researchers say is within reach in the next 10 years -- provided that a sustained, coordinated mix of talent and resources is applied to the task.
What will it take? Between $25 million and $35 million in additional spending per year for 10 years, above and beyond the $45 million per year already being spent by the Minnesota Partnership for Biotechnology and Medical Genomics, the research partnership that sprang up seven years ago between the University of Minnesota and Mayo Clinic. That amount was cited last week by partnership leaders as they rolled out plans for "A Decade of Discovery," including an oversight committee of leading citizens to advise and structure the effort.
That sum won't have to come from taxpayers alone. The state's private and philanthropic sectors can and will contribute. Federal research grants can be expected to play a role.
But Minnesota taxpayers have a crucial role to play if this vision is to become reality. They already have done much to set the stage for the effort, underwriting construction of several new biosciences research buildings at the University of Minnesota and modestly supporting U-Mayo partnership research since its founding.
Now taxpayers need to keep the public half of that partnership healthy enough to attract and retain top research talent. A major erosion of state funding for higher education -- of the sort proposed by Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer to balance the 2012-13 state budget -- would jeopardize the university's ability to sustain a high-level diabetes research push. So would an unwillingness to sustain funding of the U-Mayo partnership even as other parts of the state budget shrink.
Shoring up Minnesota's prosperity doesn't just require keeping state taxes competitive, as Emmer stresses. It also requires strategic investments in the building blocks of the high-wage, high-growth industries of the future. Failing to make those investments now, at the dawn of a promising age of biomedical advancement, would miss a major opportunity Minnesota is well-positioned to seize.
Both nature and wise choices have given this state a unique constellation of strength in the medical research, clinical practice, agriculture, food processing and medical device industries. Those assets are ready to be combined in creative synergy to defeat diabetes and other afflictions in coming years. Here's hoping Minnesotans will catch that vision, and will tell their elected officials to help make it a reality.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.