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Janet Davidson of KPMG, Bill Orovan of McMaster, Kevin Smith of St. Joseph's Health System and Murray Martin of Hamilton Health Sciences participate in a panel discussion on the health sector and the local economy Thursday. (Julia Chapman/CBC)

Health sciences research in Hamilton is booming, but there's a need to look for better business opportunities, say local healthcare leaders.

"Health care in Hamilton is by far the largest employer in the community," said Murray Martin, president and CEO of Hamilton Heath Sciences. "Hamilton used to have a large manufacturing base and you can now argue that's been replaced by a health care base."

He was speaking at a forum Thursday morning for local business and health sciences leaders focused on the role of the health sector in Hamilton's economy.

David Adames, president and CEO of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, said the Chamber and KPMG created the forum as a way of maintianing the momentum that came out of May's Hamilton economic summit.  

"The traditional model in health in Canada has been particularly health care delivery so now we need to think of new ways to delivery health care," said Adames, "but also within health sciences, where some new, innovative ideas can create some business opportunities."

Adames said that based on a survey, about one-third of business leaders at the summit thought health sciences contributed the most to Hamilton's economy.

According to Martin, Hamilton Health Sciences is the largest employer in south central Ontario with 10,000 employees, another 1,600 physicians and 1,500 volunteers.

HHS is ranked first in Canada and seventh in the world for the impact its research has on the health sector.

"We should be exploring ways for the business community to participate," Adames told the forum.

Janet Davidson, the Canadian head of KPMG's Global Healthcare Centre of Excellence and a panelist at Thursday's forum, said Hamilton has the ingredients to be competitive in the international health sciences industry. She said having two strong educational institutions —

"It's not enough to have good ideas. You have to ... translate them to the real world." - Janet Davidson, KPMG

world-recognized McMaster University and Mohawk College — as well as  a very supportive business community is a potent combination.

But Hamilton needs to push to the next level, she said.

"It's not enough to have good ideas,' Davidson said. "You have to test out new ideas in the lab and then translate them to the real world."

Panelist Bill Orovan, associate dean of clinical services at McMaster, said Hamilton is lacks a plan to move the sector forward at the regional level. The city is in competition with research centres such as MaRS in Toronto.

"The challenge is to make sure Hamilton is not left behind," he said.

Kevin Smith, president and CEO of St. Joseph's Health System, said Hamilton's real competitors our outside the country.

"Europe is really drawing [research leaders], the U.S. is starting to redraw again and certainly those companies with venture capital funds and taxation status that's more friendly to research investment are our greatest threat," he said.

Smith said Hamilton, and Canada, have great research output, but our productivity doesn't match it. The city needs to execute and commercialize.

"Are we going to be able to legitimately say this is something we're going to build to literally be the best in the world and does that have market potential as we go down the road," Smith said.