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Wisconsin lobbies to become tech hub for advanced medicine, jobs

Jun 21, 2023Jun 21, 2023

Higher education reporter

Higher education reporter

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin was part of the committee that created the regional tech hub program.

A consortium of 15 state colleges, nonprofits and health companies are working together to vie for millions of dollars in federal money and a designation of Wisconsin as a regional tech hub.

If the federal Economic Development Administration selects Wisconsin for the status, the state could be one of at least five to receive $50 million to $75 million in federal funding under the CHIPS and Science Act passed last year.

The money would be a boon for Wisconsin’s already growing innovation industry, bolstering the state’s economy, increasing its workforce and expanding development of personalized medicine and biohealth technology.

“We have government, university and industry all working together … (on) how we can use research to really change health care as we know it,” said Missy Hughes, secretary and CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which helped organize the group that submitted the bid in mid-August.

The organizations involved are some of the state’s leading players in higher education, technology and health care, including the University of Wisconsin System, UW-Madison, Madison College, Milwaukee Area Technical College and Exact Sciences, among others.

The federal economic administration will select at least 20 regions for tech hub designation in the first phase, an indicator of their potential for “rapid technology-led economic growth.” Of those regions, at least five will be chosen in the second round for further “implementation” funding of up to $75 million each.

The consortium has proposed using the money to improve personalized medicine, an emerging medical approach that tailors health care based on each patient’s genes. The technique uses genomics, imaging technology, artificial intelligence and bioscience, which could help patients heal faster and reduce medical costs, according to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.

The money would also go toward the state’s development of theranostics — a combination of the words therapy and diagnostics — which uses biotechnology to simultaneously diagnose and treat certain medical conditions, including cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

“All of that could really be developed and scaled here in Wisconsin,” said U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who supported the federal act that created the tech hub program. “It would not just have healthy impacts here in the state, but globally, it could be a real game changer.”

On Wednesday, Baldwin toured UW Health’s Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research, where scientists are already studying the use of theranostics, immunotherapy and imaging data in treating metastatic cancer.

“The tech hub designation and the funding would allow us to scale (research) up further and have more of an impact on the workforce in Wisconsin,” said professor Thomas Grist, chair of UW-Madison’s department of radiology. “It could really create a magnet to the area.”

In addition to innovation in health care, the grant could be used toward workforce training as well as efforts to expand housing and transportation policies, Hughes said.

In a letter to the Economic Development Administration endorsing the state’s bid, Baldwin made the case for Wisconsin as an ideal tech hub because of its already booming innovation economy.

She referenced a 2019 report from the Brookings Institution, which outlines ways in which the federal government can spread tech innovation beyond Boston, Seattle and cities in California. The tech hub program was created in part as a response to that report, which recommended the government create “growth centers” across the heartland and support them with federal money.

Identifying mid-size cities with the most growth potential, the report ranked Madison as No. 1 and Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis as No. 17 based on the share of the population with bachelor’s degrees or higher, the rate of those with science, technology, engineering and math doctoral degrees granted by local universities and those schools’ spending on STEM research.

“The potential is very significant,” Baldwin said Wednesday, adding that she’s lobbying the Biden administration to choose Wisconsin as a winner in the competition.

The Economic Development Administration is expected to announce the chosen tech hubs this fall.

Kayla Huynh joined the Cap Times in 2021 and covers higher education. She graduated from Northwestern University with a master's degree in journalism after attending UW-Madison.

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