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Governors Share Best Practices on Bringing Biotech Jobs to their States

April 24, 2013
With the state competition for biotech jobs in full force at the BIO International Convention, BIO released its Bioscience Economic Development report yesterday to a standing room only crowd that came to hear Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon and Director of Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity Jack Lavin share their insights on attracting and growing the biotech industry within their states.

Common themes quickly emerged around the importance of science education, keeping taxes low and ensuring access to startup capital – and so did the friendly sparring. Gov. Perry, who launched a media campaign last week to poach biotech jobs from Illinois, recounted a story about losing out to Chicago a decade ago on a chance to bring 165 Boeing jobs to the Lone Star State.

“Gov. Quinn and Mayor Emanuel might disagree, but it’s inarguable that Texas is the no. 1 state in the nation to do business,” Gov. Perry began. “But 10 years ago, that wasn’t the case.”

What did he learn from that experience? The single most important thing a governor and state legislature can do is create a climate that allows business to thrive and then get out of the way. Keep taxes low; create a predictable regulatory environment and a non-litigious legal system; build a skilled workforce; invest prudently in emerging technologies and startup companies, demand a return on that investment, and private dollars will follow.

Missouri Gov. Nixon, who earlier the same day had announced Monsanto Co.’s plans for a $400 million expansion that would bring another 675 jobs to the St. Louis area, echoed many of the same sentiments. The big companies are important, he said, but the no. 1 economic development tool is education and the way to create jobs is through innovation and small startups companies. When it comes to generating a strong return on that public investment, there’s no better industry than the biosciences.

According to the Bioscience Economic Development report, the biotech industry accounts for more than 1.6 million jobs in the United States and another 5 million jobs due to the economic multiplier effect. Those jobs pay 79 percent more than the average private sector job, and the growth of biotech jobs has outpaced overall job growth even during a difficult economic period. The United States leads the world in biotechnology, but global competition is growing. State programs to entice investment and assist biotech companies leverage existing resources are vital to growing the US industry and maintaining its leadership.

Doing that requires a long-term strategic plan and investment, said Pennsylvania Gov. Corbett. His state’s life sciences industry generates $8 billion in trade annually and employs 80,000 people – a number that grows to 500,000 when you count jobs in sectors such as law, finance, and construction by the industry’s ripple effect. But it took years to build and continuing to grow the industry requires planning that goes beyond an election cycle, he said, describing the elements of a 10-year strategic plan developed by an advisory council made up of industry, academia, as well as the legislative and executive branches of state government.

Illinois’ Lavin described the investments in infrastructure, emerging technologies, science education and workforce training that helped attract big Japanese pharmaceutical companies Takeda and Astellas to locate their North American headquarters in the state and create a “booming” biosciences industry of 3,500 companies across agriculture, renewable energy and biopharmaceuticals with a combined economic impact of $98.6 billion.

“We’re competitors,” Gov. Perry said, as he looked at his fellow panelists. “We’re competing to take jobs away from each other, and it can be uncomfortable.  But that’s good. It makes us better. Our competitiveness is how America will continue to keep our leadership.”