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Bioscience Conference bringing speakers to town

WORTHINGTON — At its core, the upcoming Worthington Bioscience Conference is about more than addressing economic and scientific possibilities and advancements in that field.

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It’s also about promoting Worthington and Nobles County in meaningful ways.

“We are telling the business community at local, state and regional levels that we have something valuable in Worthington and Nobles County, that we are emerging as a solid new frontier based on the knowledge of the people running these businesses, and we are a regional service center and should treat ourselves as such,” advocated Abraham Algadi, director of the Worthington Regional Economic Development Corporation (WREDC) since May 1, 2013. “We are a destination for these businesses, not just a fly-by, and we need to highlight that.”

The 10th Annual Worthington Bioscience Conference will take place on Thursday and Friday. This year, the majority of the conference’s activities are headquartered at the new Worthington Event Center.

“It will all be under one roof — the exhibitors, the speakers, the breaks and the social,” said Algadi, who will preside over his first conference here after participating as an attendee last year. “We’re continuing a tradition that started well before me.”

WREDC office manager Nicole Frodermann has been occupied with arrangements for the Bioscience Conference, which bears a 2014 tag line of “Towards a Regional Bio-Business Ecosystem.”

“The layout of the event center is perfect and allows us to centralize everything in one location,” Frodermann said. “There should be a lot less shuffling around.”

Late last week, Frodermann said at least 200 attendees were expected, with more registrations and walk-ins likely to increase the count.

“People can still register up to the day of the conference,” Frodermann said. “You can come for one or both days, or even just to hear a certain speaker, and people can pay at the door.”

Bioscience conference attendees don’t fit a particular mold, both Frodermann and Algadi confirmed.

“We have businesspeople, industry folks, college students, policy makers, business and economic development professionals, farmers, energy workers — you name it,” listed Frodermann.

“There’s a lot of networking that takes place, and it’s a great time for Worthington to show itself off and demonstrate what we have to offer here.”

Algadi’s enthusiasm for Nobles County’s potential as a bio-business ecosystem center is contagious.

“These are knowledge-intensive businesses, requiring knowledge in biology and certain minimum qualifications,” noted Algadi.

“I honestly believe there is international potential, and in terms of other countries’ and regions’ hunger for knowledge- and science-based businesses, we can play a role in providing services and expertise, in my opinion.”

A full line-up of speakers and breakout sessions fills the two-day schedule, with several education experts from respected institutions like the University of Minnesota, South Dakota State University, the University of South Dakota and the University of Minnesota, Morris, among those featured.

Also included are bioscience industry leaders, like the Mayo Clinic Public Affairs Division Chair Lisa Clarke and Dr. David Braddock of OSEMI Inc., a rural-based high tech company that enjoys a positive, worldwide reputation.

Area experts like Doug Berven, vice president of corporate affairs for POET, and Drs. Keith Wilson and Steve Dudley, will appear to offer insights into renewable energy and Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus, respectively.

“In addition to the science, we’ve included presentations on energy production related to value-added agriculture,” explained Algadi. 

“It’s about applying the biochemistry knowledge base in agriculture and energy production to sell a product that has added value, which can in turn increase the circulation of the dollar in the region and aid area economic development.” 

Algadi is anticipating positive responses to the presence of speakers like Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, who says the bioscience industry really is “ground zero for me on both a professional and personal level.”

Two-term state office holder Ritchie, perhaps best known to the average Minnesotan as the person in charge of statewide elections, grew up in Ames, Iowa, the son of a biophysicist for the USDA animal disease lab there. 

Ritchie himself studied biochemistry and biophysics at Iowa State University and has been a keynote speaker at the Minnesota Green Chemistry Summit for a number of years.

“My life’s work has been in agricultural policy, agricultural trade and all the different elements of that,” shared Ritchie, whose Worthington talk is titled “Bio Business in Minnesota: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” 

“I have been very active in the promotion of those industries in Minnesota, and the upper Midwest in general, for many years, but especially for rural-based industries — bio fuels, bio solvents and other bio-based and renewable industries,” Ritchie said. 

“It’s great that this [bioscience conference] is now a fully established institution in Worthington, because the key thing about all the bio industries is they take a number of years to get started,” he continued. 

“This didn’t just fall from the sky; farmers in particular, and especially corn growers, decided to invest their time, money and talents into creating a whole new industry [biofuels] and they did it from the bottom up.”

Ritchie said his presentation will mention the “latest information coming out of the innovation work people are doing all around the country and the planet, focusing on the impacts of the next 10 years.

“A great deal of change has happened in the 10 years since this conference began, and quantitatively greater leaps will occur in the next 10 years,” Ritchie said. “At the same time, we’re celebrating where we’ve been over the last 10 years and how much things have developed.”

Indeed, Algadi and his staff — which he credits for their diligence and persistence in coordinating the conference, along with support from the Worthington City Council and city staff, as well as key sponsors AT & T, Southwest Initiative Foundation, Minnesota Energy Resources Corporation and the Daily Globe — plan to recognize on Friday morning five individuals who worked to get the local Bioscience Conference under way and have sustained it over the past decade.

“It’s impossible to thank everyone who has assisted with it, but these five people have been instrumental in helping us through the years,” said Algadi of honorees Gene Goddard, Glenn Thuringer, Ron Wood, Dale Wahlstrom and Dr. Wayne Freese.

For more information about the Worthington Bioscience Conference (“Towards a Regional Bio-Business Ecosystem”) scheduled for Thursday and Friday at the Worthington Event Center, 1447 Prairie Drive, call 372-5515 or visit www.worthingtonmnchamber.com/events/worthington-bioscience-conference.

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