- The Washington Times - Friday, January 3, 2003

CULVER CITY, Calif., Jan. 3 (UPI) — Gov. Gray Davis announced a program to boost employment in the biotechnology and science research industries Friday as a means of stoking the economy in the state that faces a dizzying $35 billion budget deficit.

With a week to go before he unveils a budget plan that is expected to leave a bitter taste in the mouth of the Golden State's massive populace, Davis announced a new emphasis on training the research laboratory technicians needed to support the one segment of the state's economy that has continued to thrive through the most recent economic downturn.

"The biotech industry has grown despite the recession," Davis said at the L.A. Tech Center in Culver City. "My focus is to create jobs and stimulate the economy. The industry that holds the best promise of more jobs…is the life sciences."

California has been a major biotech center since the concept was born and has also been targeted by other states seeking to lure companies into relocating through various financial incentives.

A state law that went into effect Jan. 1 seeks to give California a leg up on other states by authorizing research on stem cells from any source, including human embryos, despite a federal policy discouraging such activities. Diseases such as cancer, stroke, heart maladies, Alzheimer's and spinal cord injuries, say supporters of the new law, have their best shot at new discoveries utilizing stem cell research.

Davis said his state's biggest ace in the hole was the vaunted University of California research centers and the skilled workforce it takes to keep the private sector's laboratories humming.

"Our success isn't driven by our research institutions alone, but also by the ability to turn ideas into successful businesses and high-paying jobs," Davis said.

Biotech ventures generally begin with the efforts of a handful of Ph.D. scientists, intellectual property lawyers, patent lawyers and venture capitalists; however, once launched, a fledgling company needs to hire lab employees who can command salaries of around $64,000 per year.

"For every Ph.D., there are two or three support staff to assist them," said Woody Clark, one of Davis's science policy advisers.

Standing in a busy and brightly lit chemistry lab at the L.A. Tech Center where research on diagnostic tools was under way, Davis announced he was ordering a review of current educational and technology transfer programs to see if any additional resources could be redirected to support biotech.

The initiative also calls on community colleges and public school systems to "develop more clinical science and laboratory programs."

Davis stressed that the plan would not require any new funding from the Legislature, which would be a difficult request to make considering California's deficit of nearly $35 billion over an 18-month period.

"We'll work with existing resources," Davis vowed. "This will not require any new government spending."

Education spending will likely be cut to some degree as will just about every area of government when Davis unveils his budget plan next Friday. As he stood with a bevy of white-coated lab assistants, the governor refused to give any new hints as to what alchemy would be needed to balance the largest state budget deficit in the nation.

"It will be balanced and responsible and it will require everyone to do their level best," Davis said. "We are going to meet this budget head on."

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