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The Biotech Century

The biosciences industries are booming - and more locations than ever are sharing the wealth.

Steve Stackhouse-Kaelble (Apr/May 07)
It's hardly surprising that everyone wants a piece of the biosciences pie. Many economic observers have declared that we are at the beginning of the "Bio Century," an era when prosperity will smile broadly upon the people, companies, communities, and states that embrace the biosciences and bring new technologies and products to market.

What may surprise some, though, is that practically every region already does have a piece of the biosciences pie. The most recent data indicate that some 1.2 million Americans bring home paychecks from biosciences jobs - and they live in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device industries - and other biosciences variants - are geographically dispersed quite widely, according to Growing the Nation's Biotech Sector, a major study released last year that was prepared for the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) by Battelle Technology Partnership Practice and SSTI.

Needless to say, just because biosciences employment is spread all across the country doesn't mean it is spread equally. As the report observes, significant clusters have developed. Just as with other industries, bioscience clusters tend to form where there are strong research and development operations, where the talent pool is deep, and where development capital is plentiful, according to Erin Jones, director of membership and meetings for the Medical Device Manufacturing Association. Ultimately, she says, established clusters develop into snowballs, growing ever bigger as more wealth seekers hop onboard.

The climate is fiercely competitive, and why wouldn't it be? Industry statistics indicate that the average annual wage for these jobs was $65,775 in 2004, the most recent year for which data is available; that's about $26,000 more than the annual private-sector annual wage. What's more, real wages (after adjusting for inflation) grew 6.4 percent in three years, more than quadrupling the growth of wages on the whole. "There's strong growth projected for at least the next five years," says Jones. "The outlook is very good."

Given that, communities and states everywhere are beefing up their research capabilities, hoping to launch new biosciences firms and attract existing ones. "There's an infinite wellspring of knowledge to be acquired," says James Greenwood, chief executive of BIO. Once communities successfully attract researchers and companies, he says, "you're off to the races. It's just win, win, win."

American Biosciences Clusters
The Battelle study conducted for BIO found that 11 states and Puerto Rico enjoy both large and specialized employment bases in at least one of the four biosciences sectors - drugs and pharmaceuticals; medical devices; agricultural feedstock and chemicals; and research, testing, and medical laboratories. That means their employment in the sector is at least 5 percent of the national total, and they register a high location quotient for that sector.

• California: The report found direct biosciences employment of about 190,000 here, mostly in the medical devices and research and testing sectors. Battelle counted $3.1 billion worth of life sciences research expenditures at California institutions. The state continues to grow new biosciences-related R&D operations; among the latest are the Mission Bay headquarters of the Institute for Quantitative Biomedical Research and a BioScience Center at San Diego State University. And the sector keeps on growing, according to a study by the California Healthcare Institute and PricewaterhouseCoopers. While this study's definitions and criteria differ slightly from the BIO report, it counts biomedical employment of nearly 260,000, making it second only to computer consulting and programming among California industries. California is now home to more than 2,700 biomedical companies and more than 100 universities and private nonprofit research organizations engaged in biomedical research, development, and manufacturing.

• Illinois: Some 57,000 people in Illinois make a living in biosciences jobs, and the state is among the leaders in agricultural feedstock and chemicals as well as drugs and pharmaceuticals. Annual university R&D expenditures linked to life sciences totaled $944 million at last count, and the state is growing its research capacity with new life sciences facilities at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and Chicago, plus biomedical research facilities at Northwestern and Loyola Universities and the Illinois Institute of Technology. On the way is the University of Chicago's Howard T. Ricketts Regional Biocontainment Laboratory at the Argonne National Laboratory.

• Indiana: Biosciences payrolls support 48,000 Hoosiers, according to BIO. The state is a leader in drugs and pharmaceuticals, among other sectors. Biosciences research totaled $378 million. Among other developments, significant investments are being made into university-based life sciences research facilities in Indianapolis, Bloomington, and West Lafayette; and Indiana's Certified Technology Park program is creating new business incubator space across the state.

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