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County's hot sectors show no signs of cooling

San Diego's reputation as a hotbed of life sciences and technology looks to grow next year, as one of the world's biggest biotech conference comes to the city, and experts predict three cutting-edge technology sectors will take off.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization's annual BIO International Convention, which industry experts say is one of the premier events in biotech, comes to San Diego this year, bringing with it about 20,000 conventioneers. The event is scheduled for June 17 through 20 at the San Diego Convention Center, filling hotel rooms right after the conclusion of the US Open.

"This is an opportunity for us to position San Diego on the global stage," said Joe Panetta, chief executive officer of local trade organization Biocom. "It's a one-time opportunity that a lot of people probably wouldn't be able to take otherwise" to see San Diego's life science community.

San Diego hosted BIO in 2001, and Panetta said Biocom has worked to bring it back ever since.

From the business side, Panetta said a growing trend he expects to expand in 2008 is the rise of San Diego companies that make enabling technologies, such as innovations allowing companies to develop drugs and bring them to trial faster.

In the technology sector, Camille Sobrian, chief operating officer of local trade group Connect, predicted that three areas will soar in San Diego next year: action and sports innovation, "clean" technology and robotics.

Sobrian estimated about 200 local companies work in the action and sports innovation field, meaning they are developing technologies designed to help or improve the sporting experience. One company, Voz Sports, has developed a helmet with blue tooth technology that can allow people to communicate, listen to MP3s or hear weather conditions while they're engaging in active sports. Other companies are developing waterproof cotton, jackets with MP3 players, advanced golf club materials and other gadgets that apply to sports.

"There are a whole range of companies that have started as traditional sports companies and are incorporating technology into their products," Sobrian said. "That means they need to work with engineers, they need to raise venture capital, and so it's a whole new game."

The Connect organization itself is getting in on the "clean technology" movement, meaning technologies that are environmentally friendly and work to make other aspects of life more green as well. Connect is incubating CleanTECH San Diego, a nonprofit designed to foster and build an energy and environmental technology cluster in San Diego County.

But some companies are already here. David Saltman, chief executive officer of the Open Energy Corp., said the region has some of the best water treatment companies in the world. Solar energy is also taking off, as are electronic monitoring companies that track energy efficiency.

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography plans to broadcast a little known fact this year: 50 years ago, a Scripps scientist named Charles Keeling essentially discovered global warming, developing the Keeling Curve, which measures the rise of carbon dioxide gas in the atmosphere. Dr. Tony Haymet, the director of Scripps Institution, said the organization is hoping to mark the anniversary with symposiums and lectures, but also with some policy changes.

"Its no secret that the kind of end-game is the world's two biggest polluters getting together and making a deal," Haymet said, referring to the United States and China. "I don't know when the diplomats will do that, but I know that the science and technology community is committed to doing everything we can so that when that happy day comes we've got all of the science and tools and measurements and verification measurements in place."

Haymet said he thinks California in general has led the way in showing that what's good for the environment is also good for business, and he hopes that urges the rest of the country to follow suit.

"The profound contribution of the California business community has been to roll up their sleeves and say not only can we do this but it's actually a business opportunity," Haymet said.

The San Diego biotech industry is making inroads in the clean technology field by working with algae in attempts to develop bio fuels.

The third sector that Sobrian predicted will take off in San Diego's technology community, robotics, depends a great deal on the region's classic industry, defense. Unmanned vehicles are gaining speed at places like SPAWAR and General Atomics.

"That's an area that's really developing quickly in San Diego," she said.

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