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Making Change: Israeli Bioscience Invades Northeast Ohio

The Israeli firms are in Cleveland this week, schmoozing with bioscience locals and potential investors to give Northeast Ohio a chance to prove itself the ideal spot to establish some kind of business presence.

To the conference

And according to several Israeli representatives, this region is definitely showing its best side. With more than 200 locals in attendance at yesterday's lunch, Irene Jaffe with a pharmaceutical company called Solubest says that enthusiasm is the most impressive part of the conference.

IRENE JAFFE: Cleveland has a very prestigious with world renown R and D, and the Cleveland Clinic without a doubt is, yes, that adds to the picture. But if you ask me if that is the only reason--definitely not. I think it's the whole package and I'm sure we're not alone in that.

In fact, she says no other region in the country seems so eager to attract bio-science. Jaffe's compatriot, Shamir Israel Lebovitz with Bioterm Pharmaceutical says bigger cities just aren't interested in newer firms like his.

SHAMIR ISRAEL LEBOVITZ: So I believe we can have a nice startup and a nice future in this area because some other areas like Boston or San Francisco they want a company almost in the stock exchange so it's not a big deal.

Maybe it's not a big-deal stock exchange company yet, but Cleveland's benefits to Israeli firms, with their technology-rich, market-poor geography are obvious. That's why Howard Guddell with the Ohio-Israel Chamber of Commerce considers his role to be a technology matchmaker of sorts. Last fall, Guddell expressed high hopes for this conference.

HOWARD GUDDELL: So we believe if we're successful, and we don't have any reason to think we won't be, we believe that this could be the beginning of Cleveland's renaissance as a technology venue starting in Bioscience by attracting the first wave of international companies from Israel to be followed by other technology companies elsewhere in the world based on the model that we're producing.

Evidently, the groups past efforts have others convinced of the event's potential. At this point, The World Trade Center, NASA-Glenn, Bioenterprise, local universities, several cities and even the governor of Ohio are supporting the gathering. It has to be a group effort, says Tim Mueller Chief Development Officer with the city of Cleveland, even though no one really knows what the payoff will be.

TIM MUELLER A lot of it is betting. But the fact of the matter is, if we look at the history of Cleveland over the last 50 years, we haven't made a lot of bets by going after newer industries. We've kind of really rested on laurels of the turn of the century and the first half of 1900s... that's why we are in this shape today.

Not that bioscience is the only way to go. Meuller emphasizes that there are other industries in Northeast Ohio - such as IT, fuel cells, liquid crystals or advanced manufacturing - that could also draw companies from around the world to create even bigger clusters here. And larger clusters would sit well with Dr. Jeff Green. The President and CEO of Cleveland-based Datatrak International is meeting with four Israeli firms during the conference. Green says he welcomes the business opportunity, but he adds that it's frustrating to see so much effort put into bolstering the region's bio-tech on the international front when the firms already based in Northeast Ohio are frequently overlooked.

JEFF GREEN: There's a lot of biotech going on here that doesn't always hit the appropriate press. We've been doing this since 1998 and there are people locally still who don't know we exist even though we are a publicly trade company... needs to be more promulgation of what's going on here in our own back yard.

Still, everyone involved in the Bioscience Israel conference seems optimistic that this mission is fulfilling it's objective. Even if no Israeli firm actually decides to co-locate here right away, the business connections are starting and awareness of Northeast Ohio's bio-advantages has increased - and THOSE are the first steps on the long road to building up a strong bioscience industry in Northeast Ohio. In clvd, sn, 90.3.