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A New Era: Wisconsin Leading The Future Biohealth Landscape

Rendering of FUJIFILM cellular dynamics facility
Photo courtesy of Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation
With a history of precision manufacturing, a thriving talent pool and high quality of life, Wisconsin has established itself as a biohealth hub.

FUJIFILM cellular dynamics has a lofty goal, says CEO Tomoyuki Hasegawa: “To be one of the top three cell therapy contract development and manufacturing organizations in the world. That’s the target.”

To achieve that, the company needs to be in a location that offers a solid pipeline of skilled talent, a reliable and efficient supply chain and a thriving biohealth ecosystem to support growth. But it didn’t look to the coasts; instead, Japanese parent company FUJIFILM Holdings, which acquired Cellular Dynamics in 2015, opted to keep the company where it was founded—in Madison, Wisconsin. In fact, in December, it announced a $200 million investment to, in part, fund a brand-new 175,000-square-foot headquarters in Madison’s BioMidwest hub of life science companies and academia.

 “The surrounding ecosystem is outstanding—great talent, leading knowledge, excellent infrastructure,” says Hasegawa, all of which has created fertile soil for collaborations and strategic partnerships. “We have great relationships with local companies,” he adds, pointing to life sciences company and frequent collaborator Promega as an example. “Working closely with other innovative companies also gives us the stimulation to innovate further.”

Evolving Wisconsin’s Landscape

Though traditionally known more for manufacturing prowess and dairy farms, the Badger State has rapidly evolved into a thriving hub for biohealth and technology, anchored by heavy hitters like Promega, GE Healthcare, Epic Systems and Exact Sciences, which in turn have spawned numerous entrepreneurial ventures led by industry veterans. “In the last 12 years, we’ve seen major expansions by all these companies,” says Lisa Johnson, CEO of BioForward Wisconsin, a consortium that advocates actively on behalf of the biohealth industry to create investment and partnership opportunities, bolster the talent pipeline and support public policy that fosters continued growth. “So, we have the talent, and now, we have the density.”

The state also boasts an advantage many other states don’t—a steep history in the kind of precision manufacturing needed by medical equipment makers. “So, when GE [Healthcare] or Accuray come to us and says, ‘We need this specific type of component part to build this piece of imaging equipment,’ that’s the skillset in Wisconsin, that’s our supply chain,” Johnson says.

In a landmark recognition of the state’s burgeoning potential, in October, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) designated the state as a Regional Tech Hub. This prestigious designation makes Wisconsin eligible for $50 million to $75 million in federal funds under the CHIPS Act, a gamechanger poised to catalyze further innovation, research and development, thereby drawing more businesses and talent to the state.

The designation also shows the world that Wisconsin’s expertise in biohealth has reached a tipping point. “We could not be a nascent industry” applying for this, says Johnson. “We had to have foundational strength to prove that we could become a global tech hub in the next 10 years.”

A Thriving Talent Pool

A key piece of that is demonstrated access to a large, skilled and continually replenishing workforce. In addition to the current ecosystem, Wisconsin’s educational system is playing a pivotal role in ensuring future talent. The University of Wisconsin-Madison, for example, is renowned for its research output and collaboration with industry leaders, driving advancements in biohealth, engineering and computer science, while technical colleges across the state provide specialized training that equips students with job-ready skills upon graduation. By maintaining close ties with businesses and industries, these colleges quickly adapt their offerings to fill skill gaps.

That strategy is now being drilled down to the high-school level for those students not necessarily interested in a four-year higher education, says Johnson. “That’s where the technical colleges come in—they work with industry, develop those programs and get them inserted into the high-school level. You’re going to see a lot of that in the future.”

In addition to homegrown talent, employers based in the state have an attractive proposition for out-of-state recruits: a strong sense of community, Midwestern hospitality, a spirited sports network and natural beauty characterized by lush landscapes, bodies of water and outdoor recreational opportunities. With a significantly lower cost of living than traditional tech bastions like Silicon Valley or the Boston area, Wisconsin offers a higher quality of life and the sort of work-life balance employees seek in the post-pandemic world, says Johnson. “It’s really fascinating to see some of these younger people who like to be in the city sometimes, but they also want the space, the peace of the country. They’re looking for both—and we have that.”


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