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Fla. biotech report urges funding, law changes

TALLAHASSEE – Florida should spend more money and change tax, environmental and other laws to help grow, attract and retain biotechnology industries, according to a report issued Monday.

The Task Force on the Study of Biotech Competitiveness, created by the Legislature two years ago, submitted its final report to Gov. Charlie Crist. He took no immediate position but said he supports expanding the industry in Florida.

“In these tough economic times, it is critical to ensure Florida maintains a competitive edge,” Crist said.

Those tough times also make it unlikely lawmakers will approve major spending recommendations during the coming budget year, said the panel’s chairman, state Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate.

Ring said other recommendations, though, require relatively little spending, and that includes improving Florida’s image as a biotech leader.

The state has spent about $750 million since 2003 attracting world-class biotech research and development. It’s paid off with more than 120 biotech research and development companies now operating in Florida. That includes major players such as The Scripps Research Institute and Burnham Institute for Medical Research.

The Ernst & Young professional services company ranks Florida among the nation’s top 10 biotech centers, but all the state seems to promote are tourism and orange juice, Ring said.

“We don’t tell anyone what we’re doing,” said the former Yahoo Inc. executive. “You never think of Florida as having an innovation economy.”

The task force wants the governor to became “chief sales and marketing officer” by recruiting venture capital and investors.

The report also calls for a review of state and private spending on marketing and branding Florida and urges a focus on attracting outside investors.

The 17-member task force includes education officials such as University of Florida President Bernie Machen, state and local economic development promoters, and representatives of biotech companies.

Its marketing recommendations are designed to support the development of homegrown biotech industries. That’s one of three major approaches. The others are to grow existing biotech industries and attract more from out of state.