Alberta biotech sector hopes to get a lift from province's diversification push
Gary Lamphier, Edmonton Journal
With the oilpatch flat on its back, the big push is on to diversify Alberta’s sputtering energy-bound economy. It’s a familiar story, as anyone who has lived through the province’s previous economic cycles can attest.
When crude prices are cruising along at $100 US a barrel, few care about the D word, except to pay it the obligatory lip service.
But when the excrement hits the fan, as it has over the past 18 months, the importance of other industries — including tourism, financial services, agriculture, biotech, information technology, environmental services, agriculture and manufacturing — becomes abundantly clear.
Provincial politicians, struggling to counter the impact of forces well beyond their control — namely, slumping oil prices and the lack of export pipelines — also like to latch on to the diversification theme as a way to show they are fully engaged in defence of Alberta’s economy.
Although no sector outside the oilpatch is yet big enough to replace the hefty tax revenues, jobs, and royalties generated by Alberta’s energy industry, they can collectively provide much-needed economic resilience for a province that remains heavily dependent on oil and gas.
At least, that’s how Mel Wong sees it. Last August, the veteran provincial bureaucrat took over as CEO of BioAlberta, an association that represents some 200 companies that focus on biopharmaceuticals, medical devices, environmental biotech and related areas.
“The biotech industry in Alberta is pretty broad, and we’re building a great foundation for diversification and improving the economic resiliency of the province,” says Wong. “Anything that’s tied to health is not going to go away, so there’s going to be a market need for it.”