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improve the R&D tax credit vehicle to help startups.
X: You also mention regulations. Is there an example of one or two of those that are being streamlined or repealed that you think will be helpful?
JI: Probably not just directed to life sciences, but our regulatory climate in general—from land permitting to environmental regulations—we are doing a lean management exercise throughout the permitting process. We are developing an index to actually score our state’s regulatory climate. We’ll be first in the nation to do that, so we can focus all of our agencies to be effective. It’s not just for life sciences, it’s for aerospace and everything else.
X: Last year at the summit I seem to recall you said something about establishing a chief innovation officer for the state in your office. Did that ever happen? If so, who’s doing that job?
JI: It’s going to be in the Department of Commerce. We’re setting up a life science sector lead in the Department of Commerce. We think it’s important to have a focused place where the industry can have in working with all the agencies they have to deal with. That will happen in the next few months. I’m happy for that to get going.
X: So you haven’t named that person yet?
JI: We have not. One of the first orders of business is working on one of the things you talked about—to increase the rate of commercialization from our colleges, and enable entrepreneurs to do their great work.
X: I know you’ve been paying attention to economic development in the state for many years. Is there any strategy or approach that has been tried before that you think just doesn’t work, and you don’t want to do anymore?
JI: I think the days of just developing a sewer system and a road system and an industrial park and waiting for people to come is certainly not the most effective economic development policy. Right now, the most effective economic development policy is to create intellectual talent and to set up a way for it to foster growth in your community. The secret now is much more about intellectual talent than it is in infrastructure. It’s probably something that not all communities have figured out, but we certainly have in the state of Washington. We understand this industry is based on an intellectual ecosystem that supports creativity. People bounce ideas off one another, and from one company to another, and from one institution to another. That’s the name of the game. We get that.
There is one other thing I’d like to mention about ‘soft power.’ We talk about ‘soft power’ with statesmanship or foreign affairs. There’s a very important asset our state has, which does help us from a competitive position. That is our quality of life here. People can set up companies anywhere they want. They aren’t dependent on infrastructure. I can tell you from talking to CEOs that when people are looking into where to put a company, our lifestyle is a very important asset. Our mountains, our water, our clean air, our cultural amenities are very important when recruiting talent. This is a great place to start a company. There are a lot of smart, hip, young people who want to live here. It’s an asset, and we want to maintain it.
X: It’s one of the reasons I like living here. One last thing. Who do you lean on for advice in the biotech community? Not just the person you are looking to hire in this sector lead job, but people you trust and respect and who help you think about things.
JI: Just a stream of consciousness here, but Clay Siegall (CEO of Seattle Genetics), Chris (Rivera, the president of the WBBA), my friends at Philips. I hate to list names and leave someone out, it’s a great way to lose friends. I’ll just say I have a whole host of people who give me advice on this industry, and we meet regularly. Probably every month I’m having a meeting with one leader or another.
X: When you have these meetings, do you engage in constructive problem-solving, or does everybody just say ‘Wow, everything’s fantastic’?
JI: No, I think people feel we are in a very competitive environment. We do want to provide better access to venture capital. We are always looking for ways so the state can help in a more direct way. Investment is a possibility. I think people want to push the envelope here. We’re not satisfied with our efforts. This has such upside. The genetic research is going on is so exciting, we want to push the envelope. We can continue to push. The status quo is not acceptable to us. We want positive change.
X: Part of it, I think, does require a little bit of luck. If Dendreon had a little more luck, it may have made a difference.
JI: That’s true. Which pro team is going to synthesize something first and get it to work? You can’t totally predict that. But we’re going to help as many as we can.
X: Unfortunately, I can’t be at the summit this year, but I’m glad to hear you haven’t forgotten about it completely.
JI: I’ll tell you one reason I’m paying attention. It’s keeping some of my friends alive. I have friends who are alive because someone took a good idea, made an investment, and built a company around it. I know it can take $1 billion and a lot of risk. We’re not just talking about jobs here. It’s life. If you’re going to grow a company, this is a pretty good kind of company to grow. They’re not just creating widgets, they’re adding birthdays. It’s a good industry.
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