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Northwest opts out of pan-northern cluster approach. (Thunder Bay).

Thunder Bay and the northwestern Ontario region are urging the government to support the development of two biotechnology clusters in the North, while northeastern proponents are suggesting a pan-northern approach be pursued.

The question remains whether or not funding for biotechnology cluster development will land in the North at all.

"The hope is that there would be not one, but two technology centres established in Northern Ontario," says Lyn McLeod MPP for Thunder Bay, Atikokan.

"I think the federal government said that if you are going to have biotechnology clusters, it would be highly desirable to have one in the northeast and one in the northwest."

The provincial government has indicated that there will be 10 centres in the province with only one in Northern Ontario, McLeod says.

"You really can't have clusters of industries as far a part as northeastern and northwestern Ontario, so it would be far preferable to have two."

In June 2002, the Ontario government announced the conception of a $30-million Biotechnology Cluster Innovation Program (BCIP). This March, the Ernie Eves government asked biotechnology partnerships across Ontario to submit proposals by April 8, for potential biotechnology clusters in their area.

Some northerners wonder how much of that money will be coming their way.

Looking at the ministry's www.biotechontario Web site it shows 11 biotechnology centres, one in' Sudbury and the other in Thunder Bay.

"It is exactly what we thought would work for the clusters," McLeod explains.

However, the first phase of funding will only go towards 10 centres in the province.

Already biotechnology infrastructure is seen in southern and eastern Ontario with little development in Northern Ontario. Regions already having a healthy biotechnology infrastructure will be considered for funding, says David Defoe, biotechnology secretariat manager for Ministry of Enterprise, Opportunity and Innovation.

"If you take a look at the biotechnology of Northern Ontario and the biotechnology of southern Ontario, the money is going to be allocated to where there are clusters of existing biotech companies," Defoe explains.

The $2-million first phase, or $200,000 per cluster, allows biotech partners to determine strengths and weaknesses and help determine where the consortium should develop biotech clusters.

Thunder Bay's Lakehead University technology transfer officer Barbara Eccles developed the proposal for a northwestern Ontario (NWO) biotechnology cluster.

"The NWO biotechnology initiative application is better geared towards the needs of the northwest region than the pan-northern approach," Eccles explains.

"All supporters of this approach believe it is the right approach for northwestern Ontario," Eccles says. "We believe we need to focus on the unique challenges of northwestern Ontario," and unite with northeastern regions "where it makes sense."

She says the provincial government recognizes Thunder Bay as a northwestern Ontario hot bed for biotech clusters.

But Sault Ste. Marie has also put in a proposal that encompasses the entire Northern Ontario region.

Dr. Magdy Basta, president and CEO of Neureka Research Corp., and Margo Shaw, director of Upper Lakes Environmental Research Network's (ULERN), have developed the proposal that includes North Bay, Timmins, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury and Thunder Bay. "The biotechnology in Northern Ontario is not mature enough to go by itself," Basta explains

"It is fragmented. It is small and just starting and I do not think by itself it can compete."

Taking a pan-northern approach instead of dividing the North into two regions, northeast and northwest, will provide a better chance of being approved for the biotechnology cluster program, he says.

If the pan-northern proposal is accepted, clusters could be divided according to the region's strengths.

For example, if developers wanted to form clusters around the forest industry, they would search out forest-driven areas like Sault Ste. Marie or Thunder Bay.

"The cluster could be an industry-driven activity," Basta adds. "It has to relate to our mass of activity in research and development."

David DeYoe, general manager for the Ontario Forest Research Institute and past member of the inter-ministerial biotechnology committee, says his position allows him to be a link between the ministry and candidates putting forth biotechnology proposals.

"If we are going to be successful, the best way to be successful is doing it together," DeYoe says.

Referring to how the provincial government will view grant opportunity DeYoe says he thinks "the province would look at it and say "If you guys want any money at all, then learn to work together.""

DeYoe says the whole purpose of the program is to nurture new initiatives and develop a biotechnology economy in Ontario for the betterment of the province, not just one region.

"For a successful venture we have to collaborate and co-operate," DeYoe explains. "This is about Ontario. It is not about regions and not about individual clusters and if we are going to be competitive globally in the biotech market which is broad and pretty invasive, then we have to realize what it means to be competitive globally."

But Rick Bartolucci, MPP for Sudhury, is confused about the provincial government's intentions.

"Why are we being limited to one when the government is segregating northeast and' northwest Ontario," Bartolucci says.

"If there are geographic limitations we should lobby hard (against it)," Bartolucci says. "They are sending out mixed messages."

Up in Thunder Bay MPP Lyn McLeod awaits the guidelines from the ministry.

"When the guidelines come out and it says one centre only for the North, when there is going to be 10 centres, and in fact on their Web site they identify 11 centres with two in- the North, then I have to say why?"

To read more Thunder Bay-based stories visit www.northernontariobusiness.com and click on the Thunder Bay section
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Title Annotation:biotechnology centres
Author:Louiseize, Kelly
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:May 1, 2003
Words:936
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