Two sides of a coin

Local support and global outlook are an unbeatable combination.

By Peer Schatz

Opinion by Peer Schatz

Qiagen started out in 1984 as a university spin-off. The idea was to revolutionize sample preparation and, in doing so, to transform molecular biology as a whole. Twenty-five years later we employ 3,000 at 30 locations worldwide, and in many people's eyes Qiagen is the epitome of the successful pairing of science and business. I am often asked whether this success story could have happened elsewhere as well as it did here. And every time my answer is unequivocal: "Yes and no."

North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) is one of the most advanced high-tech and research regions in Europe. Located right in the heart of the state—there are 10 million people living within a 100 km radius of our headquarters—Qiagen has an enormous reservoir of well-trained workers at its disposal. Recreational...

Location is a good starting point but it needs to be backed up with business acumen and entrepreneurial courage. I find the tone of discussions on location far too gloomy. People spend too much time haggling about figures after the decimal point in tax rates and bellyaching about suboptimal support programs, instead of rolling up their sleeves and going out to grab the opportunities. Our sector, molecular biology, is on the verge of taking over from physics as the leading scientific discipline. For upcoming generations its application in everyday life will be just as ubiquitous as the PC is today.

What we need is more enterprises with the critical mass to sell their products globally.

Leveraging the unique advantages that you have is the best way of securing existing jobs and creating new ones. Our particular opportunity is to successfully commercialize the outstanding research being done in this country in general and in NRW in particular. As a location for biotech R&D, North Rhine-Westphalia is an international front runner. What we need is more enterprises with the critical mass to sell their products globally. Unfortunately, this is not what we are getting. While we in NRW are producing outstanding innovations, we appear too ready to leave the marketing of those achievements to others. Two recent examples illustrate the point. In 2008, Pfizer took over the Düsseldorf location of Coley Pharmaceuticals for over $160 million, to bolster its own vaccine research and strengthen its RNAi development. And for no less than €230 million, Berlin-based Bayer Schering bought Direvo in Cologne to optimize its own drug development potential.

NRW would have benefitted more if these and other companies had remained under more local control. As the example of Qiagen demonstrates, global outlook and local development are two sides of the same coin. They are mutually beneficial and an unbeatable combination. Our international growth strategy, the access to international capital via the stock exchange, and the development of worldwide sales structures—these were the key factors promoting the sustainable creation of highly specialized job opportunities in NRW. Ten years ago we had a local staff of 150; today the count is close to 1,000. Since 2000 we have pumped more than €60 million into the improvement of logistics, storage, production, and research capacities, and plans for further expansion are being finalized. Then there are the enormous staff-side investments. With global competition for the best brains getting fiercer all the time, outstanding career prospects for exceptional staff members are absolutely indispensable. Recreational and cultural offerings alone won't attract the international talent that makes a difference in international competition.

The success of Qiagen was made possible by and in NRW. Yet what made it become reality is something no economic business development agency can provide you with: the right strategy, guts, and persistence. NRW is an outstanding location, both for my company and for the industry as a whole. Here we can all achieve a whole lot more.

Peer Schatz is the Chief Executive Officer of Qiagen.

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