Stephen Rapundalo

Stephen Rapundalo was attracted to Michigan for its economic opportunities, and today its his job to help create them for others. Rapundalo is president and CEO of the Michigan Biosciences Industry Association, which fosters growth in the state’s bioscience industry. Rapundalo grew up in Canada, about three hours east of Sault Ste. Marie. Today, he holds dual citizenship, is raising a family in Michigan and is in his third term on the Ann Arbor City Council. “It was really economic opportunities [that kept me here],” Rapundalo says. “They were less in my profession in Canada, the pay was less, taxes were higher. We continue to have pretty decent health care up there, in case I need to go back there in my old age. But the economic opportunities were just more plentiful here.” Rapundalo first arrived in the United States in 1979 as a graduate student at the Medical College of Virginia, where he earned a Ph.D in physiology. He moved to Cincinnati for a post-doctoral fellowship, got married and applied for his green card. After completing his fellowship, Parke-Davis recruited him to Ann Arbor to conduct pharmaceutical research. A lay-off following Pfizer’s purchase of the company in 2005 led Rapundalo to MichBio, which was seeking an interim executive director. Four months later, Rapundalo’s position at the organization’s helm was made permanent. A U.S. citizen since 2000, Rapundalo says the country’s immigration policy needs to do more to welcome immigrants who can help drive American innovation. “I think we’re ignoring both a huge opportunity and a huge problem in having immigrants from all over the world come here to study, but because of restrictive policies then be compelled to have to go elsewhere, presumably back to their country of origin, where they can apply their American-based education and skill set they’ve acquired to their respective countries and economies,” he says. “I think we’re missing a huge opportunity to capture that. “There are some really, really bright people who can help us maintain leadership in innovation,” he adds. “There are plenty of places that can copy and makes things more cheaply, but with innovation we’re still in the lead. But I see that deteriorating pretty rapidly unless we address the immigration issue. My hope is that if the feds won’t do it, the state of Michigan can do certain things to make it easier for students and highly skilled individuals to stick around longer.”

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