Last updated: February 20. 2013 1:11AM - 674 Views

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SCRANTON – Silicon Valley has high-tech jobs. Manhattan is a financial epicenter. Could Northeastern Pennsylvania become a bioscience hub?

Officials gathered Monday at The Commonwealth Medical College believe the pieces to make that happen exist.

The question is, will those pieces be able to come together to complete the puzzle that's already been taken out of the box.

Close to 200 elected officials and representatives of regional hospitals, universities and businesses packed into the auditorium of the region's only medical college to hear how far the Northeastern Pennsylvania Regional Bioscience Initiative has come since it was established and what the future holds.

A decade ago, Northeastern Pennsylvania was not well-positioned to compete for federal bioscience research funding or to attract the skills, the investment or the jobs linked to the bioscience industry, said state Sen. John Blake, D-Archbald, who hosted the forum. Today, after a decade of public and private investment; the development of a robust set of bioscience-related assets; and the maturing, collective capacity of our region's (colleges), we are in a much stronger position to compete and to grow in this critically important industry sector.

The region was built on King Coal, but once that industry started to wane, the greater Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metro area was left with few industries offering high-paying wages. It was something C. Alan Walker, the state's secretary of the Department of Community & Economic Development, noted during his keynote address during the program.

By diversifying and getting all the entities thinking strategically, the Northeast region of Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike, Schuylkill, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming counties can position themselves, Walker said.

The regions that are thinking strategically are the ones that are doing the best, he said. If you get everybody on the same page … it's amazing what you can accomplish.

With several area universities conducting medical and bioscience research and multiple hospitals located within the eight-county region, Walker said he sees the potential and the reason for the 2-year-old initiative.

Blake said that as the population's life expectancy continues to increase and because the region's senior population percentage is already among the largest in the nation, it creates an enormous opportunity for research to occur.

William Scranton III, who was among the group that formed economic development initiatives a dozen years ago, said those involved came to the conclusion that the economy has changed.

That, they surmised, meant the region would need to cooperate and move beyond borders for the good of all involved. One of the key initiatives to come out of the discussions was the creation of the region's only medical college.

The founding of TCMC is extremely important to what we're talking about today, Scranton, a former lieutenant governor, said.

He said several outside firms were brought in and concluded that a significant bioscience cluster has sprung up here in Northeastern Pennsylvania over the last 10 years.

Over that decade, the economy has risen and fallen, but that sector hasn't slowed.

Despite the economy there is a cluster that exists that can be built upon, Scranton said.

That cluster includes, in addition to hospitals and universities, larger established companies such as vaccine-maker Sanofi Pasteur in Swiftwater and dozens of smaller startups that are still making a name for themselves throughout the region.

The Northeastern Pennsylvania Regional Bioscience Initiative, Blake said, will support future growth in all facets under the bioscience umbrella, including pharmaceutical and clinical research, medical device and equipment manufacturing and the jobs and economic development that will accompany the growth.

Growth, some presenters said, will be easier to accomplish if everyone strives for the same goal: Success as a region.

In partnership together, we can accomplish much more than any of us individually, said Dr. Steven J. Scheinmam, dean of TCMC.

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