Flagstaff Mayor Donaldson nurtures bioscience up north

December 19, 2006

By hammersmith

Behind every developing statewide industry is an army of community leaders, supporting and advocating ideas for the future.

Arizona’s bioscience industry is no exception. As the state’s biosciences efforts have grown in the past five years, Flagstaff Mayor Joe Donaldson has been a steadfast leader of those ranks.

Currently in his fourth term as mayor of Flagstaff, Donaldson has supported statewide bioscience efforts throughout his long tenure.

In fact, before the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen) was established in Phoenix in 2002—an early victory and cornerstone for Arizona’s bioscience efforts—Donaldson was a part of the delegation that accompanied Phoenix Mayor Skip Rimsza to Washington, D.C., to convince Dr. Jeffrey Trent to relocate his research efforts to Arizona.

Since then, Donaldson has served in a long-standing advisory role on the Arizona Bioscience Roadmap Steering Committee, promoting statewide collaboration and focusing on Northern Arizona’s role in research and development.

Arizona’s Bioscience Roadmap, commissioned by the Flinn Foundation and conducted by research group Battelle, is a detailed, 10 year plan for developing the state’s bioscience industry.

As part of the statewide plan, Northern Arizona recently launched its own regional roadmap, which highlights areas of strength and need in the biosciences, as well as progress already underway in the Flagstaff area.

The report found that since 2001, some 700 new jobs have been created in Northern Arizona hospitals and medical device companies. The study also determined that the medical device subsector in Flagstaff is nearly eight times as strongly represented in Flagstaff as it is nationwide.

“Bioscience development is really significant for Flagstaff and the region,” explains Donaldson. “It really exposes the northern Arizona rural area to what’s happening in Phoenix and across the nation.”

Stephanie McKinney, president of the Greater Flagstaff Economic Council, attributes much of Flagstaff’s success in the biosciences to Donaldson’s involvement.

“The mayor, representing our community, has been involved with bioscience efforts from the beginning,” says McKinney.

“According to the most recent Battelle report, the Flagstaff bioscience industry has grown by 20 percent since 2001, driven by new jobs in medical devices and in hospitals,” explains McKinney. “Jobs in the bioscience industry continue to be among the highest in local compensation levels, which means that they generate more dollars that are available to circulate within the community.”

Standing out among the many developments taking shape in Northern Arizona’s biosciences is Flagstaff’s recent landing of a regional branch of TGen, the Center for Pathogen Diagnostics, also known as TGen North.

The new research center, says Donaldson, will help leverage work already underway in the region.

“TGen North supplements the effort at Northern Arizona University and at the Flagstaff Medical Center. It also involves the Native American tribes,” says Donaldson. “I expect a great partnership also with the university, which as a proven track record of helping the community direct its efforts.”

NAU, in fact, has already begun working to promote regional bioscience efforts. The university has recently invested in major lab facilities and an Applied Research and Development building, which will create 150,000 square feet of additional lab space.

Such investments will allow NAU to keep pace with research and development underway at Flagstaff-based companies W.L. Gore & Associates Inc., SenesTech, and Blue Mountain Technologies.

According to Donaldson, the state’s less-developed areas will be key to its ultimate success in the biosciences.

“Anything that happens in rural Arizona has got to be good for Arizona,” explains Donaldson. “In business, you are only as good as your ‘weakest sibling,’ and I think making Flagstaff a part of the bioscience corridor and strengthening its efforts can only help the state and the region grow.”

In a larger sense, Donaldson explains, cultivating strong industries can help Arizona’s rural communities explore opportunities that are frequently unavailable outside of metropolitan areas.

“We have a lot of brain power out here,” says Donaldson. “We need avenues locally where people that have ambitions and desires can experience the depth and breadth of their potential.”

More information:

Northern Arizona launches regional roadmap, 12/12/2006