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Regional Report: The Mountain States Climb with Green Energy and Bioscience

Energy, biosciences, and manufacturing sectors are helping the Mountain States find economic stability during the Great Recession - and beyond.

September 2010
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In 2008 the states attracted over half a billion dollars in venture capital towards clean energy, "a ten-fold increase compared to 2000 levels," the report stated. Competitive stimulus funding awarded through the U.S. Department of Energy totaled nearly $1 billion, with Colorado and New Mexico claiming a combined 70 percent of the region's total, in addition to the millions of federal stimulus dollars delivered through formula-based grants." When looking at the entire region from 1995 to 2007, overall job growth was 19 percent, while the core green economy job growth measured 30 percent.

The five states, already among the nation's top 16 energy producers thanks to abundant coal and natural gas resources, "are well-situated to lead in renewable energy production," the report predicts. "Wyoming is practically the coal mine to the nation, selling nearly four times as much coal in 2008 than the next runner-up, West Virginia," according to the report.

As an added bonus, some of the states also have "skilled work forces, leading public/private research institutions, and supportive state and local governments" necessary to encourage energy generation and efficiency.

Growth in Biosciences
While bioscience activity is not as red-hot compared to other U.S. regions, some Mountain State investments are solid and tied tightly to future growth associated with sectors ranging from biofuels to pharmaceuticals and medical instrumentation.

The latest Battelle/BIO State Bioscience Initiatives 2010 report, published in May by Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), provides a snapshot of employment and growth trends from 2001 to 2008 from local, state, and national biotech statistics. According to the report, academic bioscience R&D expenditures for Colorado totaled $437 million in 2008, $244 million in Utah, $116 million in Montana, $59 million in Idaho, $51 million in Nevada, and $40 million in Wyoming.

Colorado's bioscience industry has increased its employment base by approximately 26 percent since 2001, the report found. "Venture capital investments in Colorado bioscience companies totaled $1.46 billion in the last six years, placing the state higher than its population rank," the report stated. "The largest venture investment category was human biotechnology, with smaller but significant shares in biofuels and industrial biotechnology." The biggest share of the state's 1,528 patents during the same period was in surgical and medical instruments, followed by biochemistry, drugs, and pharmaceuticals.

In 2008 Colorado Governor Bill Ritter signed into law a measure pumping $26.5 million into the state's bioscience industry by expediting the sector's research-to-marketplace activity. Two years later, Colorado is home to over 350 diverse bioscience companies supporting over 16,000 direct, high-paying biotech jobs and 20,000 indirect jobs. The Colorado Bioscience Association is leading the development of a world-class bioscience cluster.

In the health sector, Fortune 400 kidney care provider DaVita of El Segundo, California announced in July that it had chosen downtown Denver for its new headquarters. Up to 900 employees are expected to work in the company's future $101 million, 270,000-square-foot building.

In its report, BIO says Utah, the second most active state for biosciences, has employment concentrated in medical devices and equipment, followed by drugs and pharmaceuticals. "Venture capital invested in Utah's bioscience companies during the last six years totaled $287 million," the report stated. "Most VC funds were invested in medical therapeutics and human biotechnology. The 1,028 bioscience patents issued to Utah inventors during the same six-year period were led by surgical and medical instruments.

View From The Fed
Rob Valletta, a Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco economist, follows the economies of Nevada, Utah, and Idaho. The hardest hit state by the recession is Nevada, he says. In June its unemployment rate hit 14.2 percent, the highest of the 50 states. "It has remained stubbornly high in the last few months," Valletta says. The state's struggling housing market, which was "very hot" prior to the recession downturn, has contributed to its economic troubles. "But just as fast as it soared, it plunged during the downturn," Valletta says. Construction, too, has struggled.

Tourism and gaming, Nevada's top industries, took big hits. But with in-state consumer spending on the rise, there are signs of life for the sector with an increase in employment, but not significant growth, so far this year. "Tourism is the key determining factor for Nevada's health," Valletta says. "There is no other emerging industry ready to take over during a downturn, so as goes that sector goes the whole state." Overall, "Nevada is hard hit and in pretty bad shape, but showing signs of stabilizing," he says.

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