Rochester Bio-tech Park in the Headlines

Follow the Herd

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune has some “investigative reporting” in the Sunday paper today, looking at G. Steven Burrill’s proposed Elk Run bio-science development on the road between Rochester and the Twin Cities, in Southeast Minnesota.

As you may recall, Mr. Burrill gave a Big Picture talk about the state of human and agricultural bio-technologies at the Worthington Bio-Science Conference last spring.  I had seen a little bit at that time about this interesting half-incubator, half business park project over by Rochester.  Between Mayo Clinic, IBM and a new University of Minnesota campus, there’s quite a bit of medical research and technology floating around this state that we should be building on.

A STrib writer last month wrote about finance on the project, then broke a blog entry about MnDOT committing to construct road improvements, including an interchange, for the Elk Run project.  This is worked into a story below the fold of the front page this morning.*

But some of them [industry insiders] are scratching their heads at the San Francisco venture capitalist’s decision to invest up to $1 billion to convert an elk farm in southern Minnesota into a bio-science incubator…

Supporters say the project could spark a biotech industry in Minnesota, creaing companies and thousands of high-paying jobs at a time when the state’s core medical device companies such as Medtronic Inc have matured and are even laying off workers.

Myself, I can’t say as I see how this industrial park a dozen miles out of Rochester will lead to anything but sprawl and broken dreams.  I’m not so thrilled with MnDOT doling out incentives to real estate millionaires and I get downright ticked when politics reworks long-term capital improvements plans.  Now, I haven’t reviewed the developers’ pro formas and I haven’t reviewed MnDOT’s Area Transportation Plan, so I can’t say this hasn’t been in the works for awhile, but it smells more like a short-term decision with long-term costs. 

That said, I’m mostly disappointed in the STrib taking what seems to me the easy way out on the story, rather than working a bit harder to cover both the pros and cons.  We have alot of potential with R&D in Minnesota that we let easily fly out of state.  Venture Capitalists like to have a close eye on their money, so the firms they invest in tend to leave and nest near those birds on either costs.  On the other hand, how did Elk Run get bumped to the top of the list when there are many deserving projects in the pipeline?  And what about the blog blurb about Dem. Rep. Tim Walz going after earmarks for the deal?  What about some REAL dirt??

Elsewhere in today’s $2 Sunday print edition, op/ed columnists blast the rise of unskilled bloggers outcompeting well-educated, skilled journalists.  This is a good example of a topic that would benefit from somebody with the time and training to clear the clutter.  Yet this story as written just doesn’t have much there there.  It’s an amalgam of biography mixed with skepticism about the power of Big Ideas.

Maybe the writer tried to follow the money and got edited down to size.  Maybe the leads didn’t pan out.  Maybe he’s good at entrepreneurism but not so much at real estate.  Maybe he’s holding the good stuff for further dead print editions.  I don’t mean to be snide, but I expect more for paid content. 

Guess maybe that’s a job best left to the blogosphere as well…


*Rant:  Not that you’ll find it online.  This is one of the stories the STrib is sequestering to print to get you to shell out $2 for dead trees.  I buy the Sunday dead tree edition because I like to read Charlie Brown & the comics out on the deck, but it will be long recycled and forgotten while on-line bytes contribute on.  Anyway, /rant.


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