By IAN ROSS
With the provincial election out of the way, the drivers of a biotechnology cluster development concept for Sault Ste. Marie expect to get started on a business-feasibility study later this fall.
Though the cheques from FedNor and Northern Ontario Heritage Fund have yet to arrive, Geoff Munro, the Great Lakes Forestry Centre’s director general, expects to put out a Request for Proposals for a formal feasibility study and governance review by mid-November.
The City of Sault Ste. Marie committed $12,500 earlier this year towards a $100,000-study focusing on infrastructural development for the cluster, which would be connected to similar biotechnology clusters and provincial research labs across the North.
Munro will be approaching project partners in the public and private sector for contributions. He will approach organizations like Algoma University College, Sault College, the Upper Lakes Environmental Research Network, the Group Health Centre, St. Marys Paper, BioForest Technologies Inc., R & B Cormier, the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre and the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP).
Valent BioSciences, a major American agri-chemical corporation, has also shown interest, though Munro would not say in what capacity.
Munro says FedNor has agreed to match dollars put forward by the partnership contribution towards the study.
He has no word on what the funding support from Heritage Fund contribution will be.
Ultimately the plan to is to create a Centre for Ecosystem Science Research and Development physically situated
between the city’s two federal and provincial forestry labs. The aim of the centre will be to commercialize research, act as a hub of innovation, as well as provide an education and skills development link with post-secondary institutions.
Munro says the Science Works concept continues to “mature,” working in unison with work already being done by the Northern Ontario biotechnology initiative, which will include an inventory of regional skills and the “best bets” for commercialization and innovation. “We don’t need to repeat that in the Science Works proposal.
“We’re going to look at other ongoing activities and how we can integrate the activities around the Northern Ontario Biotechnology Initiative and Science Works so we do not duplicate and develop a relationship between those two proposals, and to get the best of both.”
Munro hopes that will drop the cost of the Science Works feasibility proposal by $20,000. Sault Ste. Marie is home to the federal government’s Great Lakes Forestry Centre and the province’s Ontario Forest Research Institute. Collectively they employ about 400 people and conduct more than $20 million in research annually.