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August 6, 2012
How important is it to have a "anchor" company in a regional bio/pharma cluster? How do you get a thriving cluster of biotech companies, anyway? There are a lot of cities that would like the answers to these questions, not that anyone has them (although there are consultants who will be glad to convince you otherwise).
Luke Timmerman has thoughts on the subject here, pointing out that some of the more well-known biotech hubs have been losing some of their marquee names to takeovers and the like. This has to have an effect, and the question is just how big (or bad) it'll be.
Other companies, in some places, might be able to step up and fill the void, but not always. If there isn't a robust culture in an area (or not yet), then taking out the main company that's driving things might bring the whole process to a halt. If, in fact, it is a process - and that takes us back to the whole question of how these clusters get started in the first place. The biggest and most impressive share some common features (well--known research universities in the area, to pick the most obvious), but what seem to be very similar features in other locations can fail to produce similar results.
Many are the cities that have tried to grow their own Silicon Valleys and Boston/Cambridges. Overall, I'm skeptical of attempts to purposefully induce these sorts of things, and that goes both for R&D clusters as well as the various city-planning attempts to bring in young creative-class types. At best, these seem to me to be likely to missing some key variables, and at worst, it's reminiscent of South Pacific cargo cults. ("If we make this look like a happening city, then that's what it'll be!") It's not that I don't think more research hot spots would be a bad thing, of course - just the opposite. It's just that I don't know how you achieve that result.
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