TARRYTOWN, NY-Participants at the first Lower Hudson Valley Regional Biotechnology Conference held at the Dolce Tarrytown Conference Center here on Friday, June 28 stressed that businesses and governments in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties need to cooperate in order to attract and retain biotech related firms.

The conference, which attracted 250 attendees, also featured a number of speakers who said that New York States needs to do more to foster biotechnology expansion and development in the Hudson Valley.

At the start of the session, Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano, Putnam County Executive Robert J. Bondi and Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef all offered pledges to embark on a mission of cooperation with their respective neighbors in order to attract and retain biotechnology firms in the Hudson Valley.

“We all left turf outside the door,” Spano related. Later, he said that the conference was a good first step in helping to foster a biomedical cluster in the Hudson Valley.

At the conference, Westchester County Executive Spano related that the county was sending out Request for Proposals to five development firms or partnerships on its planned Westchester Biomedical Research Center to be built at the Grasslands compound in Valhalla. That project could feature as much as one million sf of space.

He also stated that part of the reason that the county is attempting to develop the property is to retain some existing Westchester County biomedical firms that need additional space in order to expand their operations.

At one of the work sessions at the conference, Steven Rosenstein, president of SRA Associates, a planning firm that consults with biotechnology firms, said that New York State is a decade behind some of its chief biotechnology competitors such as: North Carolina, California, Virginia and elsewhere.

Rosenstein argued that while there are state and local programs geared to biotechnology, New York state and local governments are lacking in terms of coordination and implementation of those assistance programs.

“With all of the money, with all of the intellectual property we have, we are not doing a hell of a lot to pull it together and we are making it really tough for people to do business here,” he said.

He added that although New York has numerous resources and programs on the state and local levels to assist biotech firms, trying to procure the benefits from the various institutions takes “an act of God.”

Rosenstein argued that most small biotechnology firms have to make decisions quickly and cannot take advantage of the aid that is available due to the time it takes to secure funding approvals.

“Try to get our institutions to answer the phone in the time frame he’s got to make a decision on where he has to go – it can’t be done.” Rosenstein said. “It takes such cumbersome effort that most small companies just can’t put up with it and don’t take advantage of it.”

He later said that this must change or the Hudson Valley region will lose the biotechnology firms it now has to other areas. “If we don’t feed the companies where they start, then all we are doing is feeding the Princeton (N.J) area and the New Brunswick (NJ) area and building their job base and their economic base.”

Rosenstein’s presentation was not all negative. In fact, he said that the Hudson Valley region is located in the single most important biotechnology area in the county with the exception of the San Diego, Calif., region.

“There is a critical mass of overall resources and we are right in the middle of it,” he said.

The keynote speaker at the event was Dr. Russell W. Bessette, executive director of the New York State Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research.

Dr. Bessette noted that in the 2002-2003 State Budget, there is a total of $250 million in funding for the Governor’s Centers for Excellence program and another $225 million for the state’s Generating Employment Through New York State Science.

However, Dr. Bessette told globest.com that although $15 million in state funding had been promised to foster various biotechnology initiatives in Westchester County, those funds had not been released as yet. In addition, it had been reported recently that Governor George Pataki had promised to designate Westchester County as a Center for Excellence. Dr. Bessette said he was aware of those reports, but noted that no decision had been made on establishing Westchester County as one of the state’s Centers for Excellence.

At the end of the session, organizers reported plans to launch a Lower Hudson Valley Bio Alliance, which will help promote cooperation between counties and state governments to help foster biotechnology development in the region.

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