James Vesely / Times editorial page editor
Explore Life, the next big thing
The region should be a biotech, scientific boomtown. We have an urban university center, a significant medical center at the University of Washington, the medical centrifuge on First Hill, and dozens of companies that support the medical infrastructure. We have one of the world's billionaires creating a real biotech center on South Lake Union.
But more is needed, which brings us to Explore Life, an organization created to link Bothell to Renton and Seattle to the other Lake Washington communities. On paper, Explore Life is very ambitious. The creation of a regional biotech center that would rival any in the world is no small thing, but a glance at the scale of Explore Life suggests something pretty big is in the works.
"This is a matter of thinking ahead five to 20 years," said Suzette Cooke, president of the Greater Renton Chamber of Commerce. Renton, Seattle, Bellevue, King County, Bothell, the Port of Seattle, and a half-dozen other governments and institutions are on the list of participants. Chairman of the project is former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice, who typically lends his name and energy sparingly — but with some weight when he does.
Explore Life CEO and President Maura O'Neill said within six to eight weeks a plan will begin circulating that puts some details together on a regional effort to make Greater Seattle the hub of bioscience in the coming decades.
"We're not alone," O'Neill said. "Eighty-three percent of all metropolitan regions have named bioscience as their No. 1 priority for the future. The answer for us is to make partnerships, not to out-Shanghai Shanghai but to create natural reasons for this region to be in the forefront."
O'Neill describes Explore Life as 70-percent private, 30-percent public in organization and funding. Planners are seeking an initial, yearly budget of $1.5 million.
Thinking long and big is embedded in the mission statement of Explore Life. The organization says we have the leading public research institution in the nation — the UW; we have the third-highest concentration of scientists in the world; we have the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, with one of the highest concentrations of Ph.D.s anywhere in the country, in Richland. We have the largest charitable foundation in the world; the fastest-growing share of any region in the country of the National Institutes of Health's annual $28 billion budget.
Yeah, yeah, you say, but what's in it for me? Maybe a lot of jobs, both for new Ph.D.s and for drywallers building new tech centers. Maybe regional ties that break down walls between urban centers and suburban centers. Maybe a restored sense of confidence in this place — the region — we call home.
James Vesely's e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
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