Philadelphia gets the nod for BIO 2015 convention

The biotechnology industry’s biggest convention will be coming back to Philadelphia in 2015.

The Biotechnology Industry Organization on Tuesday announced that Philadelphia would host its international convention, which draws more than 15,000 attendees.

The Washington-based group, which has about 1,100 members, last held its BIO event at the Convention Center here in 2005.

This comes as something of a surprise because the last we’d heard from the event’s organizers the show was getting too big for most cities to handle.

Following BIO’s last visit, organizers had deemed it a success with 18,000 attendees, but they’d expressed doubt that the city could host the event again without more exhibit space and hotel rooms.

Voilà! The Convention Center has been undergoing a $786 million expansion that is scheduled to be finished in March. And two hotels opened earlier this year, adding 430 rooms to the more than 11,000 in Center City.

“We are very excited to welcome BIO back to Philadelphia into an expanded Pennsylvania Convention Center in 2015,” said Jack Ferguson, incoming president and CEO of the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Philadelphia executives who’d been involved with the hosting of the 2005 BIO convention said that effort brought together many parts of the economic development scene. Beyond attracting the $30 million in direct and indirect spending from the event itself, they wanted to woo the well-financed companies to establish operations here.

However, in the afterglow of the 2005 convention, it appeared that Philadelphia might lose out on hosting another BIO bash. The show was getting bigger every year, tying up hotel rooms and exhibit space.

The 2006 convention in Chicago attracted 19,479 people. BIO drew 22,366 to Boston in 2007 and 20,108 to San Diego in 2008.

But when attendance slumped to 14,352 in Atlanta in 2009 and 15,322 in Chicago (again) this past May, it was clear that BIO was not on its way to becoming the next Consumer Electronics Show (with 120,000 attendees in January) or Electronic Entertainment Expo (45,600 in June).

In fact, the biotech industry has had three terrible years, thanks to the financial crisis that curbed all sorts of financings. Biotech is capital-intensive. Without new financing from venture capital firms or big pharmaceutical companies, biotech firms become like any other money-losing business.

BIO estimated that about 25 percent of the publicly held companies have either gone out of business or been acquired since the end of 2007. At last count, BIO said there were 294 public biotech firms in the U.S.

The hope is that BIO’s attendance will build back up by 2015 when it gets the chance to sprawl over Philadelphia’s 528,000 square feet of contiguous exhibit space at the Convention Center.

We’ll get some clues when BIO hits Washington in June and Boston in 2012. The trade association has not finalized the host cities for its 2013 and 2014 conventions. Chicago and San Diego had been announced as tentative locations on previous BIO schedules.