From Union Square, everything at J.P. Morgan seems (relatively) fine

Okay, folks, I'll give it to you straight: This is my first J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference. And it seems crazy busy for those here, as everyone networks in a frenzy only possible when so many movers and shakers are in one spot.

Fierce sent a team of us to the San Francisco annual event, and one of our missions has been to gauge the life sciences industry climate. In other words, after the global economic calamity that struck a few years ago, is the industry finally seeing better days again?

It depends on what, or who you choose to listen to.

For example, nearly 75% of biomedical industry CEOs surveyed in California said their companies had to delay a research or development project over the last year, largely because of a lack of funding or due to FDA regulatory approval roadblocks. PricewaterhouseCoopers, the CHI-California Healthcare Institute and BayBio conducted that survey, which was released during the conference to some public relations fanfare.

Medtronic chairman and CEO Omar Ishrak, similarly, began his company's presentation on Monday talking about how the last year was a tough one, economically. He went on to speak rapidly to an overflow crowd about how Medtronic planned to respond. Solutions include plans to "optimize pricing" for products such as the company's Resolute Integrity stent, and a goal to boost revenue in emerging markets from 10% of Medtronic's total to 20% by fiscal 2015.

Fair enough, but what about everyone else at the conference? It was hard to figure out on Monday, trying to navigate through the sea of suits and cacophony of investment chatter at the event, held at the venerable Westin St. Francis Hotel at Union Square. I overhead some folks say the conference was going well. One other person near the elevator said the trip was a waste of airfare.

Then on Tuesday afternoon, I took a brief break and strolled around Union Square itself. It was clear and sunny and I eventually sat down to soak it all in--the sun, the palm trees surrounding the square, the ice-skaters at the winter rink set up to the side. And there were also legions of J.P. Morgan attendees, in suits or fancy clothes, sitting at tables and networking, enjoying the spring-like weather.

"Who are your investors?" one person asked as a colleague as they lounged in their chairs. "This is a great opportunity," a well-dressed man pitched to another sitting across from him.

There were countless conversations like that. So from my perspective, at the street (or park level) view, the economic climate may not be what it once was, but it seems resilient enough. Plenty of folks were pitching, selling, marketing and trying to close the deal.

We'll hear soon enough how many of them were successful. - Mark Hollmer (twitter | email)