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Readers show support for Cleveland biotech hub
Two interesting events followed my February commentary, "Cleveland: The next biotech hub?" First, readers began to contact me to show support for my argument that with some effort and organization, multi-challenged Cleveland could become the next Research Triangle Park. And second, in an odd paradox of the sort that often fuels Cleveland's persistent inferiority complex, Forbes released its annual Top 10 Most Miserable Cities in the United States, with Cleveland topping the list.
While the Forbes report raised the usual ire (note: I'm purposely choosing a euphemism for some of the language I heard after the news broke) Clevelanders show when some media outlet or another puts our flaws under a national magnifying glass, it did manage to avoid the ubiquitous mention of our river catching on fire several decades ago. To me, a native Clevelander who has heard this story told so often and with such misinformation that it's practically become a tall tale, that's a start.
Forbes did, however, succumb to the temptation to use the cutesy phrase, "Mistake on the lake," when it explained why it Cleveland topped its "Misery Measure." In a nutshell, Forbes said Cleveland nabbed the top spot because of its "high unemployment, high taxes, lousy weather, corrupt public officials and of course, crummy sports teams."
These problems are well documented by many reporters, most recently by me in my February column. I'm a journalist, after all, and it's my job to shine a light on the truth, not run from it. But Forbes made mention of other, more positive truths, to which I alluded last month. "There are certainly bright spots in Cleveland," the magazine said, pointing out that "the Cleveland Clinic is one of the top medical centers in the U.S. and the largest employer in northeast Ohio," and that the city has plans to construct "the Cleveland Medical Mart, which is a convention center that targets the medical and healthcare industries."
Not a bad foundation for another domestic biotech hub, if you ask me. And if you ask many of our readers, they agree.
"As a native son of northeast Ohio, and a person who received two degrees in Ohio, I enjoyed your recent blurb about the city being the next biotech hub," one Abbott Labs employee wrote. "Nothing would please me more than to see Cleveland rise from the ashes and become a place where educated people chose to live and work, especially in the biotech/pharma area. I'd be scouring the job scene in order to return from my exile here in Illinois. Clevelanders are grounded, having been through a lot in the last 25 years (and we're not even going to comment on their sports woes.) They are strong enough to survive brutal winters, hot, humid summers and come back for more. I'd be first in line to come back, without question."
Another reader, who is currently employed by Pfizer, wrote: "Great piece, and considering the ongoing massive ongoing layoffs in the biopharmaceutical industry, a timely reminder that there are more places to consider than Boston and San Diego."
And a former Cleveland suburbanite who now works for a drug discovery service company in upstate New York chimed in, "It has been a long time since I looked to see what employment opportunities exist for a medicinal chemist in Ohio, but I will keep my eyes open. While I enjoy living in upstate New York, I would welcome the chance to come 'home.'"
At LabAutomation 2010 in January, I had the thrill of seeing Molecular Groove, PerkinElmer's company band, perform "The Heart of Rock & Roll" by Huey Lewis & the News. Clad in neon hair bows, Devo hats and legwarmers, they crooned, "the heart of rock and roll is still beating … in Cleveland," with conviction. And from what I see, I believe 'em.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out how well Cleveland is represented in some of the most successful pharma and biotech companies in the country, and appreciative that so many came out of their "exile" to support the notion that the drug discovery industry could thrive here. Ken Silliman, chief of staff to Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, perhaps summed up the unique perseverance that these and other Clevelanders have in their blood when he told Forbes, "Clevelanders over the years have developed a tenacity to deal with these kinds of situations, and we are very aggressive in attempting to solve our problems rather than awaiting someone else's solutions."
If that isn't what this industry needs right now, I don't know what is. Now if only our local government officials could turn away from the nasty FBI dragnet that has Cuyahoga County in an uproar, we could perhaps repeat North Carolina's success. Thanks, readers.