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Randy's Ramblings: Hudson's green shoots of economic revival
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opinion River Falls, 54022
River Falls Wisconsin 2815 Prairie Drive / P.O. Box 25 54022

Some of the "green shoots" of economic revival that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke talked about last March on the CBS news program "60 Minutes" are sprouting in Hudson.

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I've been getting the press releases from Gov. Jim Doyle's office about a boom in start-up biotechnology and high-tech companies for a few years now.

Being the jaded, aging newsman that I am, I figured that the claims were largely political hyperbole - something like the fundamentals of the economy being strong just before the bubble burst.

The governor's trip here two weeks ago to welcome three new firms to Hudson convinced me the talk isn't just wishful thinking.

Members of the Twin Cities media tagged along for the event, too. They didn't need any convincing that the Wisconsin boomlet in tech is for real.

The three companies that Doyle came to welcome - Real Diagnostek, RJA Dispersions and VitalMedix - are expatriates from Minnesota, lured across the St. Croix by investment capital made available because of Wisconsin tax credit programs.

The Star Tribune told the story of Real Diagnostek in an article posted on its Web site, www.startribune.com, on Sept. 30.

Reporter Thomas Lee related how the company was one of Minnesota's most promising start-ups in biotechnology; how it had raised about $2 million to develop a portable device for quickly analyzing blood and urine samples; and had been named a biosciences finalist in the Minnesota Cup, an annual state competition for entrepreneurs.

"Only one problem: Rapid Diagnostek is based in Wisconsin," Lee wrote.

A week later, when the relocation of RJA Dispersions to Hudson was announced, the headline in the Star-Tribune read: "Another Minnesota company leaves for Wisconsin."

"Why Wisconsin? What is it about your state that is causing so many high-tech companies to come here?" a young TV reporter with a good haircut and great diction asked Doyle following the governor's Oct. 22 speech at the Real Diagnostek lab in Hudson.

The governor repeated his comments about how Wisconsin's tax policies encourage investment in start-up high-tech companies. He added that Wisconsin has developed a "critical mass" of investors and technical workers to support the new firms.

The hope is that the firms will hit the jackpot and create new, good-paying jobs - like the Madison medical records company that started in a garage with a few workers and now has close to 5,000 employees.

Bill Rubin, executive director of the St. Croix Economic Development Corp., believes there's potential for Hudson to become the high-tech hub on the west side of Wisconsin.

A lot of technology is transferred from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and University of Minnesota campuses to commercial enterprises, Rubin told me in a phone call Monday morning.

He said Wisconsin's investor tax credits, and its favorable business income and property taxes in comparison to Minnesota, are encouraging scientists who live or work in the Gopher state to start their companies here.

"I think there is a big upside for border communities," Rubin said. "I-94 provides a pretty easy commute to make it happen."

That's not to say that a full-blown boom is underway yet.

"These are still very much stage-one developmental companies," Rubin noted.

Rapid Diagnostek, which relocated to Hudson in 2008, is just a four-person company so far.

Founder and Chief Technology Officer Dr. Richard Van Deusen, a veterinarian, and President and CEO Harry Norris, a former Medtronic and Johnson and Johnson executive, are working with research scientist Ian Harmon and software engineer Gagan Johal to perfect the diagnostic device that will first be offered to veterinarians.

RJA Dispersions, which makes nano-particle and pigment dispersions used to print large pictorial signs, has moved into a 6,500-square-foot space in the River Bluffs Business Center.

The key personnel on its small staff are Ronald R. Adkins, Ph.D., a former division scientist at 3M Co. and technical manager at Flint Ink, and Jospeh E. Ward, Ph.D., former lab head for the 3M Scotchprint business unit.

VitalMedix, also in its infancy, has four employees and has raised $4.5 million from investors and the U.S. Defense Department grants, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The company is developing a drug that ambulance services, hospitals and the military could use to treat people who suffer rapid blood loss.

Two researchers at the University of Minnesota-Duluth developed the VitalMedix technology while studying hibernating and deep-diving mammals.

The fact that the company had to go to Wisconsin to find the investment capital it needed was upsetting to Minnesota state Sen. Kathy Saltzman of Woodbury.

"The piece that is truly a stake in the heart for us is that this particular product was discovered at a University of Minnesota campus by researchers studying gophers," Saltzman was quoted as saying last summer in a Journal Sentinel story. "How would Wisconsin feel if a company that discovered its product while studying badgers was moving here?"

In August, Wisconsin Department of Commerce Secretary Richard Leinenkugel delivered $250,000 in Technology Zone tax credits to Cities Digital Inc., another high-tech replant from Minnesota.

Cities Digital has purchased and moved into the former Savadge Building at 2000 O'Neil Road in St. Croix Business Park. The company started by Patrick Welsch in 2001 converts paper documents to digital files for government and business clients.

The tax credits were expected to help Cities Digital create 15 jobs and retain 11 existing positions.

The hope is that one of these new Hudson companies will hit the jackpot - like the three Madison companies Gov. Doyle talked about that were recently sold to larger corporations for a total price of more than $1 billion.

I'd be happier with 20 percent of the 5,000 jobs that, according to the governor, the Madison medical records company created.

Then we'd really feel the impact and have something to brag about.

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