Two interesting events followed my February commentary,"Cleveland: The next biotech hub?" First, readers began to contact me to showsupport for my argument that with some effort and organization,multi-challenged Cleveland could become the next Research Triangle Park. Andsecond, in an odd paradox of the sort that often fuels Cleveland's persistentinferiority complex, Forbes released itsannual Top 10 Most Miserable Cities in the United States, with Clevelandtopping the list.
While the Forbesreport raised the usual ire (note: I'm purposely choosing a euphemism for someof the language I heard after the news broke) Clevelanders show when some mediaoutlet or another puts our flaws under a national magnifying glass, it didmanage to avoid the ubiquitous mention of our river catching on fire severaldecades ago. To me, a native Clevelander who has heard this story told so oftenand with such misinformation that it's practically become a tall tale, that's astart.
Forbes did, however,succumb to the temptation to use the cutesy phrase, "Mistake on the lake," whenit 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 ofcourse, crummy sports teams."
These problems are well documented by many reporters, mostrecently by me in my February column. I'm a journalist, after all, and it's myjob to shine a light on the truth, not run from it. But Forbes made mention ofother, more positive truths, to which I alluded last month. "There arecertainly bright spots in Cleveland," the magazine said, pointing out that "theCleveland Clinic is one of the top medical centers in the U.S. and the largestemployer in northeast Ohio," and that the city has plans to construct "theCleveland Medical Mart, which is a convention center that targets the medicaland healthcare industries."
Not a bad foundation for another domestic biotech hub, ifyou ask me. And if you ask many of our readers, they agree.
"As a native son of northeast Ohio, and a person whoreceived two degrees in Ohio, I enjoyed your recent blurb about the city beingthe next biotech hub," one Abbott Labs employee wrote. "Nothing would please memore than to see Cleveland rise from the ashes and become a place whereeducated 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 inIllinois. Clevelanders are grounded, having been through a lot in the last 25years (and we're not even going to comment on their sports woes.) They arestrong enough to survive brutal winters, hot, humid summers and come back formore. 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 thebiopharmaceutical industry, a timely reminder that there are more places toconsider than Boston and San Diego."
And a former Cleveland suburbanite who now works for a drugdiscovery service company in upstate New York chimed in, "It has been a longtime since I looked to see what employment opportunities exist for a medicinalchemist in Ohio, but I will keep my eyes open. While I enjoy living in upstateNew York, I would welcome the chance to come 'home.'"
At LabAutomation 2010 in January, I had the thrill of seeingMolecular Groove, PerkinElmer's company band, perform "The Heart of Rock &Roll" by Huey Lewis & the News. Clad in neon hair bows, Devo hats andlegwarmers, they crooned, "the heart of rock and roll is still beating … inCleveland," with conviction. And from what I see, I believe 'em.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out how well Cleveland isrepresented in some of the most successful pharma and biotech companies in thecountry, and appreciative that so many came out of their "exile" to support thenotion that the drug discovery industry could thrive here. Ken Silliman, chiefof staff to Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson, perhaps summed up the uniqueperseverance that these and other Clevelanders have in their blood when he toldForbes, "Clevelanders over the yearshave developed a tenacity to deal with these kinds of situations, and we arevery aggressive in attempting to solve our problems rather than awaitingsomeone else's solutions."
If that isn't what this industry needs right now, I don'tknow what is. Now if only our local government officials could turn away fromthe nasty FBI dragnet that has Cuyahoga County in an uproar, we could perhapsrepeat North Carolina's success. Thanks, readers.