Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Biotechnology firm sets up shop in Ketchum

Express Staff Writer

In the midst of the economic downturn, city leaders have often repeated that the Wood River Valley needs to look beyond tourism and attract new businesses to survive the decline. Fortunately for Ketchum, bringing its most recent addition to the city's business community didn't require a dime in marketing expenses.

On Monday, Idaho BioScience officially opened its doors in the former Scott building, on the corner of Lewis Street and Warm Springs Road in Ketchum's industrial area.

Idaho BioScience is a division of California-based Santa Cruz Biotechnology Inc., which does not develop diagnostic or therapeutic products, but rather creates reagents and antibodies for scientific researchers, including those at the National Institutes of Health, universities and hospitals around the world.

The Ketchum branch will focus specifically on technology development and product innovation.

Dr. John Stephenson, who founded the company with his wife, Brenda, in 1991, said the choice to open a division in Ketchum was largely due to the fact that the couple own a house in Ketchum and have been coming to the Sun Valley area for more than 20 years to ski and hike.

"One advantage is that we can work closely with this division, as we spend three to four months out here every year," said Stephenson, who added that he'll try to get in around 100 days of skiing this season.

Stephenson said another advantage of running his business in the Wood River Valley is the highly educated workforce.

"There's quite a few highly qualified people that move here because they like the lifestyle," Stephenson said. "In fact, a lot of them are completely underemployed."

Stephenson said that the overwhelming majority of his 23 employees in Ketchum were already Wood River Valley residents when he hired them. With the potential of doubling the size of this workforce, Stephenson said the company would continue to look to recruit locally as much as possible.

"We have no problem finding people here and by hiring locally it means less turnover because they already know they like the area," Stephenson said. "We want people who fit in—it's better for us and the community."

To that end, Stephenson said he is fostering a job atmosphere with flexible hours to allow his employees to take advantage of the active lifestyle.

While the lack of affordable housing has been touted as a barrier for new businesses in Ketchum, Stephenson said the area is no more expensive than those of his competition, in places like San Francisco and San Diego.

However, he said that while it could be difficult to attract businesses that don't already have some kind of connection to the area, businesses like Scott USA and Smith provide successful examples that help diversify the economy.

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