Algae Could Mean Jobs for Illinois

New study says Illinois ranks well

It doesn’t look much different than any other pickup truck, but one Chevy is running around McCormick Place this week on fuel made from algae.  And that algae could mean great jobs for Illinois.

The fuel, a bio-diesel oil, comes from a San Francisco-based company called Solazyme, which has come up with a way to make various kinds of fuels out of a combination of algae and discarded plant matter known as bio-mass.

"Our scientists have taken a process that once took hundreds of thousand of years and reduced it to just a few days," said Solazyme spokesperson Jenet Garamendi.

Solazyme is just one of more than 1,200 exhibitors at the Bio International convention, held through Thursday at McCormick Place.

Walk the still-under-construction show floor and what you see most are places trying to attract this future-centric and job creating industry.

Already, 1.4 million Americans have a bio-science-related job. Even during the recession, the biotech industry managed to add 19,000 jobs last year, while most other industries were collapsing.

And bio-science tends to pay more than the average private sector job, with incomes averaging more than $77,000 a year.

"We are not only a job generator, but we are a generator of high quality jobs," said Mitch Horowitz of the research firm Battelle.

For every one bio-tech job, Horowitz estimates almost six more are created in other fields.

That is reason for enough for states like Illinois to go after go after biotech business big time. The state’s booth is front and just right of Center at this year’s show, the second time Bio has come to Chicago in the last four years.

"We want to make people aware of Illinois and Midwest in general," said David Miller, the President and CEO of iBio. What’s unusual about Illinois, Miller says, is that the state has a strong presence in pharmaceutical, agricultural and industrial biotechnology.

The message seems to be getting through.

The Battelle/BIO State Bioscience Initiatives 2010 study puts Illinois among the top states for bioscience. With more than 57,000 employees statewide, Illinois is in the top-tier for employment. It ranks seventh in bioscience research and development and third in bioscience related degrees.

But Illinois has a way to go to catch up to the country’s top bio-tech state: California, which ranks number one in each of those same criteria.

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