State officials explain how – and why – they build their biotech sector

Life sciences and the biotechnology industry are key to the economic health of the world, America, and individual states. Helping biotech grow requires new talents and physical space as well as partnerships between government, the private sector, investors, and communities, panelists at the BIO International Convention said yesterday.

“There are really five building blocks of opportunities for the biotech industry,” said Pete Pellerito, a Senior Policy Adviser at BIO: “Capital for early-stage companies, workforce, technology transfer, business climate and legislative incentives associated with that, and space for small and developing companies.”

Pellerito moderated a panel entitled “Building a Strong Biomanufacturing Workforce in the United States: A Conversation with State Economic Development Experts” with:

  • Kristi Dula, the Director of the Office of Entrepreneurship Innovation & Technology at Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity;
  • Quentin Messer Jr, CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation;
  • Dee Dee Myers, the Director of the California Governor’s Office of Business & Economic Development; and
  • Machelle Sanders, the Secretary of the NC Department of Commerce.

Biotech is an important part of the economy

“Our industry is only about 40 years old,” Pellerito explained. “But since our inception, there has been an explosion of opportunities coming out of academic research centers that have created companies that pair venture capitalists with young companies who want to make innovation happen. We’re an important part of the durable goods manufacturing component of our economy. Plus, our industry also provides salaries to employees, as well as taxes to state and local agencies, among other benefits.”

The panelists spoke of the benefits of biotech to their states and took the opportunity to promote the advantages they offer the industry.

“California has a very long history of being a friendly place and a welcoming place for the life sciences biotech industry,” said Dee Dee Myer of the California Governor’s Office, “In the 40 years since Genentech came here, life science industries have generated nearly a million direct and indirect jobs and have provided nearly $200 million to $1 billion a year in annual revenue, which is really important to us. We believe that innovation is a secret sauce to California and biotech has played a major role in that.”

Building talent, and space

Emphasizing the challenge of building biotech talent, an ongoing theme during the panel, Quentin Messer Jr. of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation said: “In Michigan, we want to make sure that bioscience companies that are headquartered in the state not only have the talent that they need today, but that they will also have the talent that they need in the future. So we are working to make sure that young people and students coming out of universities are linked into the biotech industry and ready to enter the industry.”

As Myer from California noted, biotech provides work for a range of well-paid professionals: “You don’t necessarily need a four-year degree. Obviously, there are many people with four- and six- and eight-year degrees who do very very well in this industry, but there are also many people with two-year degrees too, in biotech wet labs, who are key to developing innovation in the industry.”

Along with building young talent, another challenge mentioned was building spaces for young companies.

“There are a lot of new startups in the state, but the demand for wet labs space, especially during COVID, was very high,” said Kristi Dula of the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity. “So our state government set up a wet labs grants program that was open to the public or private companies in order to make sure we started supporting that need.”

Partnerships enable biotech

When it comes to promoting the local biotech industry, panelists mentioned the importance of diverse partnerships, ranging from academic to governmental to private.

“Our regional partners in North Carolina have been enablers for us, especially for the life science sector and biotech,” said Machelle Sanders of the North Carolina Department of Commerce. “I believe those partners are not only going to enable continued success, but are truly a demonstration of how we get things done in the state, even despite the struggles that we saw with COVID-19. That strength of partnership has come from over 40 years of dedication and capacity built in partnership and collaboration.”

Facilitating investment in biotech just makes good sense, according to Myers. “The biotech industry in California has continued to prove over and over again that there are huge downstream benefits in terms of economic growth, investments, and good family-supporting jobs,” she said.

The benefits of biotech are not lost on state governments, Pellerito said. “Biotechnology was talked about in 43 of the 47 State of the State addresses by governors as a priority. That’s a huge number by anybody’s estimate,” he pointed out.

Indeed, the focus on biotech by groups across the political, economic, and social spectrum speaks for themselves. Biotech is not only here to stay, it is here to help us innovate and to grow our communities.

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