Tuesday Trends sample: Biotech rising, development programs mixed and cherries falling
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Biotech industry: Wisconsin's biotechnology industry is still small but is one of the nation's healthiest, growing faster than any other state during the recession, according to a new national report. The annual Battelle/BIO State Bioscience Industry Development report found that, during the recession, the growth of Wisconsin's biotechnology sector compared to the rest of the state's economy was the widest spread in the country. The report showed that Wisconsin's biosciences industry's 1,366 businesses employed nearly 31,000 people in 2010, with annual average wages ranging from $54,822 in agricultural feedstock and chemicals, to $79,409 in the medical devices and equipment sector. And the report didn't even include clinical drug trials, which are pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the state's economy and directly supporting tens of thousands of high-paying jobs. That's according to a study from PhRMA, a national trade group representing pharmaceutical companies. Wisconsin has only 2 percent of the country's population, but scientists are conducing nearly 10 percent of these studies in the Badger State because of the expertise at research centers such as UW-Madison, the Marshfield Clinic and the Medical College of Wisconsin, said Jeff Trewhitt, a senior director at PhRMA, at a BioForward gathering. According to a report by Archstone Consulting, biopharmaceutical companies paid $350.3 million to 43,000 employees working on trials in 2008, the most recent year for which figures are available. That resulted in more than $16 million in state taxes and another $78 million for federal coffers. Because the state's biotech industry has held up well during the recession, BioForward executive director Bryan Renk said those numbers have probably increased by at least 20 percent over the past four years.
Economic development programs: A new audit says state agencies that administer dozens of economic development programs haven't measured all the results. The Legislative Audit Bureau finds the state spent about $226.5 million on such programs in the 2009-2011 biennium, and a 2007 state law requires eight agencies to measure the effectiveness of their programs. But those agencies gave auditors information on only 101 of 123 programs active during the biennium. The former state Commerce Department, in particular, provided information on less than three-quarters of its programs as the state's lead economic development agency during that biennium. State Auditor Joe Chrisman writes that auditors have concerns with the completeness of the information tracked by the state, and the report's recommendations suggest the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation -- the public-private entity that succeeded Commerce -- report to the LAB on programs excluded from the last report and provide guidance to state agencies on goals and accountability measures for each program going forward. The GOP co-chairs of the Joint Audit Committee vow to hold a hearing on the audit, saying more work remains to be done as the WEDC approaches its first anniversary after replacing Commerce.
Cherries: Unusual weather this spring has all but killed off Door County's signature crop, according to one local grower, who calls the 2012 cherry harvest the area's worst in at least 40 years. The Wisconsin Cherry Growers Association says the situation should be national news after unseasonable warmth caused cherry trees to blossom in March, only to be wracked by a series of frosts shortly thereafter. Growers in Door County -- home to 99 percent of the state's cherry production -- say they'll try to accommodate tourists looking to grab fresh cherries, but that most of the crop that is typically processed in other ways won't be there this year. Less than half a million pounds of cherries are expected; a normal harvest would produce 10 to 12 million pounds. It's the second such state crop failure in less than five years, and the worst national failure of the cherry crop since 2002. Moreover, observers say any stored cherries have already been sold. WCGA officials say costs to import cherries from countries such as Poland are driving up production costs here. More importantly, they worry that food producers could look to other fruits as a substitute for cherries. If that happens, WCGA President Terry Sorenson says, "it's very hard to get our shoe back in the door."