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Cisneros sees more biotech jobs
February 1, 2012

By David Hendricks, San Antonio Express-News

With targeted investments, San Antonio's biotechnology sector can reach 180,000 jobs by 2020 from about 144,000 now, former Mayor Henry Cisneros said Tuesday in a busy day of speeches about job creation, higher wages and economic advancement.

"Biotechnology is the likeliest economic engine for San Antonio going forward," Cisneros said during his second speech of the day, to the quarterly San Antonio Emerging Venture Pipeline luncheon. Attending were 200 invited people, most of them potential investors in startup biotech companies, to hear from companies seeking venture capital.

Cisneros, who pulled together BioMed SA in 2005 to promote the city's biotech sector, listed five specialties that have been developed to high levels in San Antonio with companies, research and educational components - diabetes, military medicine such as wound care and burn treatment, neurosciences, cancer and infectious diseases.

"I don't know if it should be all five or one or two, but with targeted investments, San Antonio can be a national center and create lots of jobs," Cisneros said. "We can be a city known around the world as healing people and advancing its economy at the same time."

The Emerging Venture Pipeline luncheon was the second one staged by T3DC, or The Texas Technology Development Center.

The first luncheon in October sparked investments in at least one company, Metric Medical Devices Inc., which makes medical devices aimed at healing bones in the hands, ankles and feet. W. Casey Fox, the firm's CEO and chief technology officer, said he could not reveal the investors or investment sizes until his company closes on a $1.8 million investment round.

Cisneros' first speech of the day was delivered to the International Economic Development Council summit, attended by 400 people. Cisneros, mayor from 1981 to 1989, recounted the 37-year history of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, which he now chairs.

Job creation and seeking higher wages involve a process that is changing along with the U.S. economy, Cisneros stressed. The process has to outgrow cities stealing jobs from other cities. Strengthening local economies should rely more on local resources to nurture what each city does best, he said.

He commended the economic development professionals because they do what the nation needs most - job creation. "I lose patience," Cisneros remarked, "with people who go through their daily lives and have no concept of big questions."

Cisneros certainly was comfortable, therefore, with the audience for his second speech, the wealthy who are experienced investors in small, young companies. But it's a slow process.

The Emerging Venture Pipeline "is a wonderful venue for people to meet other investors," said George Karutz Sr., a former broker who has been involved with San Antonio-area companies such as the Church's Chicken chain, Taco Cabana and the Alamo Group.

"But this is not traditional investing," Karutz said of biotechnology. "It's much riskier. The average investor should not do this, unless it is through a (venture) fund or a third party. The people here are the ones with money and experience," Karutz said. "They know the risks. They are the ones looking to take the risks."

And asking the big questions.


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