Donn Esmonde: The trickle of good jobs has begun
Updated: 05/06/07 9:39 AM
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Fred Zeigler is among the first. Give us more of him, and things will change. New technology will replace old industry. Jobs will come instead of leave. Company names like Medcotek and PharmIdeas will roll off of our lips the way Trico and Bethlehem Steel once did.
Fred Zeigler is here. The embryonic technology company named Medcotek is his. It is relocating from Charlotte, N.C., to the downtown biotech corridor. Imagine. After all of the brain power and talent we have exported for decades to the Carolinas, now we get a trickle of reverse commute. If more see what Zeigler sees, the trickle becomes a stream.
Fred Zeigler wants his X-ray image sharing service to lead the way.
"Once my company is commercially viable," he said, "there could be a lot of my type of companies coming to Buffalo."
This is what was supposed to happen when we spent hundreds of millions to cluster our life sciences industry. This is what was supposed to happen when we built the new silver-shiny building for Hauptman-Woodward, next to UB's new Center of Excellence with its massive supercomputer, all of it down the block from the researchers at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.
The buzzword is bioinformatics; the promise is new technology; the payoff is jobs - good-paying jobs, for people here and to bring people here.
It is not a monster coming, like a new Toyota plant. But Medcotek's seven workers are expected to increase to 50, most of them locals, within three years.
"There is a continual pool of talent," noted Zeigler, "coming out of the University at Buffalo."
Add the ripple effect - more work for law firms, outsourcing, banks, vendors - and the new-job number expands.
Zeigler does not look the stereotype of a med-tech exec. He is not two weeks out of grad school with a smug expression hooked to an iPod Nano. Zeigler has gray-streaked dark hair and looks like he could have played offensive guard for Cookie Gilchrist. He has the soft middle of a food-aholic and the hard eyes of a go-for-it businessman. Before Medcotek, he bought into a software company for $100,000. He sold it five years later, he said, for "low eight figures."
Zeigler relocated Medcotek from Charlotte because he liked what saw here. He chose us over San Diego, Cleveland and Atlanta. He likes living in a city where strangers passing on the street say "hi." He likes the neighborhood restaurants and the friendly feel. A Pittsburgh guy, he does not fear snow. But what really matters is that we have what it takes to bring a Medcotek. Which means there could be more where Zeigler came from.
"You have everything my company needs to succeed," said Zeigler on a recent morning at UB's Center of Excellence. "There is this center; there are all the medical facilities around it. Other places had the facilities, but not as concentrated."
The drips are becoming a trickle. Canadian pharmaceutical consultant PharmIdeas recently moved its U.S. operations from Charlotte to Amherst, near UB. Cleveland BioLabs and its leading cancer scientist were recently lured by Roswell Park researchers. Roswell Park will spin off a new company, PersonaDx, from its research. Medcotek was partly drawn here by UB computer scientist Vipin Chaudhary, recruited last fall by UB.
By month's end, Zeigler will have a software prototype that will be "lightyears ahead" of what is now on the market for training radiologists.
"Whatever sources we need to expand and market the product," said Zeigler, "will all be done with people here."
Ziegler is among the first of what should be, what needs to be, many. From Charlotte to Buffalo. It just goes to show you: Do it right, and they will come.