Bioscience Fever: Arizona the latest to catch it. Where to now?

Arizona has been a bit slow, but now its own special organization, the Flinn Foundation, is pushing for bioscience development. It says more than “1.3 million square feet of bioscience labs and offices were constructed in the Valley, Tucson and Flagstaff in the past year.” Public and private groups across the state are jumping in with both feet; and the Greater Phoenix Economic Council is working directly with 14 bioscience companies to get them to locate in the area.

As promising as the bioscience industry is, I’m beginning to wonder if there isn’t a limit to how much economic development it can promote. Not every major city can become a major center of bioscience activity. Not every university and every hospital in major cities can become a center of excellence in research and education. There just aren’t that many professors and practitioners of bioscience to go around. Everybody wants to jump on the money-making bandwagon, but the fact is, we’re going to need a lot more young people interested in studying bioscience to get anywhere near fulfilling all this promise.

So what do we need to do? We need to write about what bioscience is doing, what it may be able to do. We need to write about the industry in a way that kids who weren’t already predisposed to study science will get turned on. Will be willing to work extra hard to get into fields that require profound discipline and serious dedication.

Are we doing this? Forty years ago Russia and the U.S. were fighting neck and neck to be masters of space. The cry way back then was that not enough U.S. kids were going into science. What’s changed? The latest report says nothing–the U.S. has a severe shortage of young people studying science and engineering.

In the rush to bioscience as economic savior (the number of jobs requiring science and engineering skills is growing at 5% annually–as opposed to 1% for other types of jobs), many cities and regions may be chasing rainbows that have only empty pots at their ends.

Motivation to inspire young people to study science. Money to educate them into the workplace. These are the big challenges ahead.