Bioscience Conference has evolved in its seven years: Annual event will be hosted for seventh time next month
WORTHINGTON -- What is now known as the Regional Bioscience Conference was initially a simple reception to commemorate the grand opening of Prairie Holding corporate headquarters.
However, what may have started out as a small gathering has grown into an event that now attracts people from all parts of the country, putting Worthington on the map and promoting innovation and economic development.
"It was suggested that we bring down a couple of professors to do some presentations about what was going on in the biosciences field," Glenn Thuringer, manager of Worthington Regional Economic Development Corp., recalled. "We also asked a few speakers from the Worthington area to be part of the event."
Organizers decided to market the event as the Regional Bioscience Conference. After securing a lineup of guest speakers and organizing tours throughout various companies in the community, the inaugural 2005 event was a success. Attendees enjoyed the conference so much they asked organizers to consider making it an annual event to promote the industry.
Seven years later, the conference continues to strive to heighten the awareness of agricultural biosciences in southwest Minnesota and the surrounding states.
Organizers have sustained many changes over the course of its tenure, but the ultimate goal continues to be to heighten the awareness of agricultural biosciences. Along with heightening awareness, the conference also aims to connect the nonbioscience communities with the different aspects of the biosciences.
"Worthington has been able to capitalize on the animal health care industry," Thuringer explained. "When we're working on projects, we want our local elected officials and the community people involved in helping structure such projects."
Thuringer is also quick to point out bioscience-related businesses are not run in the traditional business manner.
"These are not your typical businesses as far as their cash flow and other topics of that nature," Thuringer explained of bioscience businesses. "They might start a business, but they don't project to have revenue for several years because research and development is a lengthy process.
"We're so Thuringer used to a company starting a business and the next day they are manufacturing their product and the next day they are selling the product. The cash flow turns over, and it's easier for the lenders and the people funding the project to see revenue."
Even though revenue may not develop as quickly in the bioscience industries, Thuringer has nonetheless seen a profit in the region's investment in the biosciences.
"Our vaccines companies have grown substantially over this seven-year period," he added. "We should look at ourselves as very fortunate to have our large pork processing facility, JBS, in town."
The plant slaughters approximately 19,000 hogs per day, according to Thuringer. An estimated 80 percent of those hogs are raised within a 100-mile radius of Worthington.
The proximity of both the plant and its product has provided numerous opportunities for economic expansion. Companies are utilized to build barns to house the hogs, and health care companies provide vaccines, health care products and services for the hogs, creating infinite prospects for financial gain.
"The animal health care in the more immediate area of Worthington has been able to capitalize on venture," Thuringer said. "The pork processing plant gives us more opportunities. It really is the whole circle of the value chain."
Although an event of this caliber would typically take place in a metro area, Thuringer is grateful for the opportunity to continue to host the event in Worthington.
"A lot of the metro folks have been great supporters and attendees of the conference," Thuringer added. "We are able to include more activities into the conference because of the convenient location, which is something that in a bigger setting is tougher to do."
Hosting the conference in a rural area has facilitated numerous industry tours without taking up the majority of the day commuting to each facility. And industry experts haven't been the only ones to benefit from the tours and presentations.
Each year the conference involves many middle school, high school and college students. Their involvement has increased in recent years with the development of pre-conference labs. Approximately 160 regional juniors from four different high schools and students from four different colleges will participate in pre-conference labs. The goal of the labs is to spark student interest in the sciences.
Several years ago, Thuringer learned students typically began formulating their future career choice during the middle school years. Often, he noticed that the subject of science was often eliminated at an early age. He hoped to changed students' perspectives as he helped form a science club for eighth-grade students.
Through the assistance of activities such as the science club and the pre-conference labs, Thuringer hopes students' interest in science and biotechnology continue to flourish.
"There are career opportunities that can challenge students' knowledge and meet their interest if they truly have an interest in science," Thuringer added. "We hope having these types of activities will help bring subjects off the textbook pages and into real life for students."
The conference has also evolved into a convenient marketing tool and has been influential to the vision of Worthington's biotechnology advancement center. With plans progressing for the new center, Thuringer is helping to further incorporate education into the project.
"Our goal is to get agreements formalized with Minnesota State University Mankato and South Dakota State University this year," he added of the center's emphasis on education. "We are also in the process of establishing a partnership with the University of
Minnesota. And Minnesota West will always be our leading educational institution."
As the conference continues to increase the awareness of biotechnology and the role it plays in the economy and education, Thuringer hopes yearly event will also be beneficial in the much-anticipated biotechnology advancement center.
"As we progress with the biotechnology advancement center and the bioscience park, the establishment of a board of directors, I would hope the entity would take over the conference and it would become an industry-driven conference," he said.
The Regional Bioscience Conference began with only 75 attendees. Today, the event attracts more than 200 people and has integrated professionals from within the science community to the business world and the arena of education. Incorporating people of many facets is essential, Thuringer believes, in continuing to make the event a success, and interacting with many types of individuals has been beneficial to the attendees themselves.
"This conference has given us an opportunity to associate with some of the top people in Minnesota and other parts of the world," Thuringer said. "We get an opportunity to network with them, and so many people are now connected because of this event."
The seventh annual Regional Bioscience Conference will be April 7-8 in the gymnasium of Minnesota West Community and Technical College's Worthington campus. The conference is open to the public, and registration is required.
"The presentations are not done at such a high level that the public cannot associate it in some way to what's around them on a daily basis," Thuringer added. "I will guarantee that every presentation will present something the public comes in contact with on a daily basis."
For more information or to register for the conference, visit www.wgtn.net or phone 372-5515.