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Iowa hopes to stand out at BIO show


With a $500,000 commitment and a sleek, contemporary display area covering 3,000 square feet, the Iowa Department of Economic Development is going all-out to present the state’s biotechnology message to an international crowd next week in San Francisco.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization’s BIO 2004 convention June 6-9 will feature 1,000 speakers and 1,200 exhibitors at the Moscone Center. Right there among the displays from the Netherlands, Scotland, France, Taiwan, Germany and most of the U.S. states, some 16,000 attendees from more than 55 countries will see an aluminum-framed Iowa pavilion stretching 100 feet long and 30 feet wide, with the message “life Changing!” on the arched entryway.

Inside they’ll find information booths manned by Iowa-based companies such as NewLink Genetics Corp., Phytodyne Inc., Proliant Biologicals and Trans Ova Genetics, as well as the state universities and other civic and development organizations. Altogether, more than 40 exhibitors will fill the Iowa roster.

Most of the participants paid from $1,000 to $3,000 for the chance to take part, according to IDED spokeswoman Tina Hoffman.

BIO, which moves the site of its annual convention each year, consists of more than 1,000 biotechnology companies, academic institutions, state biotechnology centers and related organizations in all 50 U.S. states and 33 foreign countries.

Iowa has participated in the convention for several years, gradually increasing its presence. This year, the IDED hired Exhibit Resources Midwest, an Urbandale company operated by Robert and Annette Ensley, to design and build an impressive home for the Iowa booths. Discussions started last November and construction began in April.

“It’s the biggest display we’ve ever done,” said Bob Ensley, who rented space in a warehouse just to assemble the pavilion. “Exhibitors like Japan will have a similar space at the convention, but this is a competitive size.”

“When people walk onto the trade show floor and see your exhibit, you have to make a good impression,” Hoffman said. “We were getting to the point where it was clear we had to put together a first-class exhibit to get our message across. I think every Iowan who attended the convention last year would agree that we needed to do more.”

Each year, Iowans have one last chance to make an impression with a convention-ending reception that they host. This year’s event is built around a baseball theme, with a party on the field at SBC Stadium, home of the San Francisco Giants, and a visit from Bob Feller, a Van Meter native who was a Hall of Fame pitcher for the Cleveland Indians.

About 100 people will make up the Iowa delegation this time, hoping to make business contacts that will benefit their own interests as well as the state’s. “Last year we had a breakfast meeting with the New Zealand delegation of bioscience companies, and out of that came a trade mission,” Hoffman said. “Governor Vilsack led about 30 business leaders to New Zealand, met with government officials there and began talks on joint-venture projects. This year, that New Zealand delegation is coming to Iowa.”

“It’s a forum to get together with other business development people from all over the country and talk about opportunities for mergers, technology licensing and so forth,” said Michael Budnick, vice president of development for Boone-based Proliant Biologicals. The company, which extracts proteins for use in cell cultures and sells them to other biotech businesses, has made useful contacts while attending previous BIO conventions. “It has helped us secure sources of raw material for products, learn who new distributors are that we might work with and understand who might be using our products,” Budnick said. “It’s a big deal, it really is.”


Biotechnology is becoming more important to Iowa’s economy. According to a recent study done for the state’s Department of Economic Development, jobs in the biosciences account for 7 percent of Iowa’s total employment, and the average salary for those jobs is $39,253, or more than $10,000 higher than the statewide average. Over the past four years, the bioscience industry has grown by 4.6 percent in the United States as a whole, creating nearly 270,000 jobs. On the academic side of the issue, Iowa is running in the middle of the pack. The state ranked 21st in one measure of university bioscience research spending in 2003. The latest U.S. employment and spending figures will be announced at BIO 2004.

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