County biotech future weighed

Futurist assesses Monterey's prospects; calls for diversity Could Monterey County someday enjoy the affluence and sophistication of the technology-rich Silicon Valley economy? Maybe so, with the right elements in place relatively soon.

That's was the suggestion of Tapan Munroe, a futurist-economist based in Moraga, Calif., speaking at a recent conference probing the potential for agricultural biotechnology in the coastal county.

An economy intended to sustain a high quality of life must be diversified, said Munroe at the Seaside gathering.

Also essential in the system are high-value-added employment, adequate infrastructure, and business-friendly government, but he added, the critical ingredients are centers for research and development.

Time running out Monterey County indeed has potential, Munroe said, but time is running out as other California counties vie for the same sort of development.

Out-of-state observers are puzzled by the economic disparity between Silicon Valley and communities in the interior of the state.

"They ask how is it possible the Central Valley has incomes 40 to 50 percent less than those of coastal metropolitan areas," he said, "and I tell them it is because of lack of linkage and fewer universities and colleges."

Munroe, who was formerly chief economist with the Pacific Gas and Electric Co., now heads Munroe Consulting, Inc. and has performed various economic analyses for business, government, and education.

He cited global analysts who say the U.S. is poised to continue economic power because of a triad of resources: "high-class research and development," "the ability of faculty members and researchers to connect with the economy," and "entrepreneurship and venture capital."

The nation has several metropolitan areas which have high concentrations of research centers that lend themselves to expansion in biotechnology. Examples are Boston, San Francisco, Houston, Los Angeles, and Seattle.

If Monterey County is serious about pursuing an agricultural biosciences center in the future, he said, it must keep in mind that there is enormous competition for such centers across the nation between cities having a rich base of universities and research centers.

Within California alone, eight, biomedical, regional centers compete. "This economy of change is highly competitive because of the speed of communication," he added.

The essence of economic development in the 21st century is a combination of increased productivity and sophisticated world marketing and research, which translates to a higher wages and an improved standard of living, he said.

Munroe said although Monterey County needs more to make it a regional biotech center, it already has many attributes. The agricultural base is obvious, and this is supported by a successful export business community. High-value-added products, in Monterey County as well as elsewhere in California, have great potential for enriching the base.

School as incubator He said the University of California facilities at the former Fort Ord military reservation could be "an incubator" for new companies.

Although the county lacks a major ag research center close by, agricultural biotech interests could easily link with University of California campuses in Berkeley and Davis.

The scenic virtues of the Pacific coast and the ambience of Monterey County are draws. But a more complete regional infrastructure is needed to sustain economic development and quality of life against that scenic backdrop.

"If you want an economic system whose main goal is to sustain a high quality of life, you have to conclude that you have to diversify the economy," he said.

Stockton Ag Expo, California's first farm equipment show of 2001, will celebrate its 25th year in business on Jan. 23-25, 2001, on the extensive acreage of the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds in Stockton.

A volunteer generated and mostly volunteer managed farm equipment show, Stockton Ag Expo is expecting over 500 exhibitors and manufacturers representatives to fill five big exhibit buildings and areas of outside exhibit space it has utilized over the past 24 years in Stockton.

Exhibitors have been contracting with Stockton Ag Expo since April and will continue to do so until show time, according to John Demichelis, area grape grower and harvester who is the volunteer chairperson of the three-day show.

Currently, Stockton Ag Expo has booked dealers of the largest and heaviest farm equipment all the way to computers and software designed for growers.

In addition, the Stockton show will offer a special seminar on hiring practices conducted by the California Employment Development Department. The San Joaquin County Agricultural Commissioner also will offer workshops helping growers to attain required chemical applicator licenses for plantings in the Central Valley.

Stockton Ag Expo will be maintaining its established $5 general admission fee.

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