Arizona delegation brings back bioscience lessons from Ireland

July 14, 2006

By hammersmith

Earlier this summer a delegation of Arizona leaders in the biosciences traveled to Ireland to study what has made the island country one of the most successful high-tech and bioscience economies in the world.

Members of the delegation say they returned with a better understanding of the driving forces behind Ireland’s success and how they relate to Arizona’s efforts to build a competitive bioscience base. This is the third site visit to Ireland by an Arizona delegation involving leaders in science, business, academia, policy, the media, and others.

“We need to figure out what Ireland has going for it, and what we have going for us here,” said MaryAnn Guerra, chief operating officer for the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) and a member of the delegation. “Then we can start filling in the gaps to bring ourselves to the level we want to be at.”

For generations, Ireland relied primarily on its basic agricultural economy. Today, Ireland is known worldwide for lifting itself out of a crippling slump to turn itself into a global bioscience powerhouse.

This transformation was evident in Ireland’s unemployment rate, which dropped from 15.7 percent in 1993 to 4.7 percent by 2003. The nation’s gross domestic product quadrupled from 1990 to 2003.

At a recent panel discussion, trip participants cited essential factors in Ireland’s experience that would also apply to Arizona. Among them are long-term strategic planning, extensive collaboration, ongoing public sector support, a solid education system, and a concerted effort to communicate and educate the public.

Stephanie McKinney, chief executive officer of the Greater Flagstaff Economic Council, said she was struck by the sense of urgency in Ireland.

“They are worried about global competitiveness,” she said. “That motivates them to always be on the cycle of improvement.”

University of Arizona Neurobiology Professor Leslie Tolbert said what she took away from the trip was an understanding of how closely everyone works together to advance Ireland’s bioscience industry.

“There is an impressive level of communication, integration, and coordination between the government agencies and everyone else,” she said. “Everyone talks from the same slides and uses the same stats to draw a picture of where the country is going.”

In addition, an editorial by an Arizona Republic writer who on the trip cited other key factors in Ireland’s success: corporate income-tax cuts, agility, and patience. The editorial acknowledged that Ireland and Arizona are different but share fundamentals: “Looking to Ireland as an exact template would be as silly as trying to mix a field of shamrocks among saguaros and chollas. But it would be equally foolish not to learn a few of the Celtic Tiger’s tricks.”

Arizona has one direct connection to Ireland’s success—William Harris, the new director of Science Foundation Arizona. Harris started his new role in recent days after serving for five years as the founding director general of Science Foundation Ireland, a group credited with helping to lead the nations’ contemporary success.

For more information:

Irish eyes a’smiling,” Arizona Republic, 06/18/2006