For the perfect illustration of the sloppy and wishful thinking that plagues Greater Richmond, check out this morning's front page of the business section of the Times Dispatch.

There's one article shamelessly promoting the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce's new "initiative" with the cute name of "i.e.*" which purports to tell the world just how creative people in the city are.

Right next to it is a story telling us that Richmond's showcase example of "innovation," the Virginia BioTechnology Research Park "is doing well" but otherwise is in such dire financial straits that it is raising its parking fees and "voluntary" assessments of tenants. They've just lost one promising tenant to Denver and they're banking on the state government to come up with monetary support since North Carolina and Maryland support their research parks with state funds. Lots of luck there. The state has never paid a dime for the park which has produced only three actual incubated and gone-public companies. Two moved away and the other is bankrupt.

Therein lies the rub. Money. Venture capital and angel financing are lame in Richmond. Plus, the area does not have a Tier One university to anchor efforts for incubating start-up research companies. Go to North Carolina's Research Triangle Park and you have Duke, North Carolina State and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Maryland has Johns Hopkins, the No. 1 medical research school, proximity to the National Institutes of Health and a serious biotech corridor stretching from Bethesda to Gaithersburg.

Here in Richmond we have the University of Richmond, a good liberal art school that does little research, and Virginia Commonwealth University which has some research but seems more stuck on the problems of its president Michael Rao who will finally be "inaugurated" next fall more than two years after he arrived. VCU is not in the same league as the Tar Heel and Terrapin schools, unfortunately. The biotech park here does have a big Philip Morris USA lab but it is notoriously secretive and company products help kill 400,000 Americans every year.

What to do? Well, if you are Thomas A. Silvestri, publisher of the Times-Dispatch and outgoing chairman of the chamber of commerce, you pretend, sort of like the kids in "Peter Pan.""We have to start believing we are the capital of creativity," he says.

That's where this marketing plan called "i.e.*" comes in. This week, for $125 a head, the "who's who of Richmond's creative scene" got together at the "secret" meeting place at La Difference furniture store for the launch. The three-year program is supposed to highlight "world class" creative talent here in Richmond. But if you look at the Chamber's Website, you find examples such as a young girl who regards "teal" as her favorite color and another individual who started a shoe store in Carytown. Sounds very creative.

The Martin Agency, the leading advertising shop that is an authentic Richmond claim-to-fame, is a big player in "i.e.*." Too bad advertising is just what it is — presenting an image someone wants you to believe, such as making people think that geckos are really savvy insurance executives with New Zealand accents.

What's missing here? Money, a top-flight university and competent local leadership.

Peter Galuszka



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