Speaker: Opportunities extend to Worthington and beyond

WORTHINGTON -- The actual number of jobs in bioscience may be small compared to those available in other industries, but the research and work performed in the field has a far-reaching impact.

WORTHINGTON -- The actual number of jobs in bioscience may be small compared to those available in other industries, but the research and work performed in the field has a far-reaching impact.

That was one of the messages Dale Wahlstrom delivered to visitors of the Second Annual Regional Biosciences Conference Friday morning at Worthington Senior High School. Wahlstrom is employed by Minneapolis-based Medtronic and serves as chairman of the executive committee for BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota. He owns seven patents in medical device technology, and has several other patents pending.

Wahlstrom likened the bioscience industry to a triangle. A portion of one tip represents the number of jobs available in bioscience, while the majority of the triangle represents jobs in biotechnology. Spanning out from that triangle is biobusiness -- the segment that includes everybody.

"For every one biotech or bioscience job, you get 10 biobusiness jobs," he said.

The BioBusiness Alliance is a non-profit organization representing Minnesota companies, the university system, state government and healthcare institutions. Its mission is to position Minnesota as a global leader in biobusiness, said Wahlstrom.


"Many people, when they hear bioscience ... think stem cells or gene (technology)," he said.

The industry is so much more than that, however.

Regarding the bioscience corridor being developed in the Worthington area, Wahlstrom talked about creating businesses that work with polymers (PLA), a substance created through the processing of corn that can be developed into packaging for food, materials for clothing and other items.

"It's made the same way you make ethanol, but you change the process to convert to a monomer, which turns to polymer," he explained. Specifically related to food packaging, Wahlstrom said PLA is bio-degradable, disintegrating to dust in a matter of 60 to 80 days.

What makes the product even more appealing is that it can be used in place of PET, a petroleum-based product often used in the production of food storage containers. Converting to PLA, said Wahlstrom, would save roughly 800,000 gallons of gasoline and reduce carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to driving 14.3 million miles.

Wal-Mart recently signed a contract to convert 114 million of their PET-based plastic food containers in its grocery retail area to PLA-based plastic, Wahlstrom added.

Much work needs to be done to position Minnesota as a leader in the bioscience industry, specifically in financing research and development. Wahlstrom said it's going to take work and cooperation not only on the local and state level, but on a regional level with neighboring states.

Wahlstrom said competition comes from Missouri (which established a BioBelt trademark), Wisconsin (which has put $750 million into bioscience research) and Ohio, which in 2002 began a $1.1 billion effort to expand high-tech research and create higher paying jobs.


While states are moving quickly to establish themselves as leaders in the bioscience industry, so too are other countries. Ireland has set aside $5 billion to establish a bioscience corridor that spans from the country's east to west coast. China, on the other hand, has dedicated $70 billion to renewable energy.

Wahlstrom said the BioBusiness Alliance has established three goals for itself -- including the completion of a state-wide assessment, creation of a 20-year vision (BioMinnesota 2025, and development of a biobusiness resource network.

"We don't think this 20-year vision is the answer, but it's the process of exchange of information and collaboration -- providing a network for dialogue and debate," he added.

Wahlstrom concluded his presentation by reading the Chinese proverb, "Tell me and I'll forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I'll understand."

Involvement is the key in making the state, and the region, a leader in the industry.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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