Northeastern University report suggests need for future life science investment

Jessica Bartlett | Boston Business Journal | June 23, 2014

State officials are hoping a new report that shows the prevalence and importance of the state’s life science jobs will encourage future administrations to spend equally in the sector.

In a report conducted by Northeastern University, released last week, analysts said the state’s investment in life sciences had pushed Massachusetts to the top of the list when measuring population-controlled life science employment, with 113,678 people involved in the industry throughout the state in 2012.

That employment practically equals the state’s construction industry, and grew 17.5 percent since 2006 despite a difficult economy.

“This is a sector that has been growing more than the overall economy,” said Alan Clayton-Matthews, director of quantitative methods in the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern, and one of the study’s authors. “It appears to have an excellent future.”

The study was conducted at the request of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, which wanted feedback on a $1 billion state initiative to invest in life sciences throughout the state over the course of 10 years. In the past six years, $535 million of the funding has been handed out, leveraging $1.5 million in additional investments.

The investment has catapulted life sciences to among the top industries in Massachusetts. In the number of life science jobs, Massachusetts even ranks in at number six in the country despite having a significantly smaller population than other top performers, such as California (number one with 354,783 jobs) and New York (number two with 143,234 jobs).

“People tend to view the life sciences as a kind of interesting, promising, emerging industry cluster for Massachusetts, and with these new numbers, it should move how we’re thinking about life sciences,” said Gregory Bialecki, the secretary of housing and economic Ddevelopment. “It’s not just an interesting emerging cluster…it’s a pillar of our economy.”

The study has also made the case for future funding, state officials said.

“As a new administration comes in and thinks about how they grow the Massachusetts economy, they should be thinking about how they should support this cluster,” Bialecki said.

Mass Life Sciences Center President Susan Windham-Bannister said in addition to supporting a request for funding over the next four years, the study also showed the direction of current investment was on target.

“We’ve invested broadly in infrastructure, workforce and collaboration, in the state and nationally… and it has really, really paid off in terms of job creation. It has become the place to be,” she said.

As part of their investment strategy, the Life Sciences Center has invested $19 million in seed money to 28 companies. Those companies have gone on to raise $149 million, either through procuring other investments or by being acquired by other companies.

“We’ve helped provide a pipeline for new technology,” Barrister said.

Yet other states — California, New York, Pennsylvania and Florida among them — are close on Massachusetts’ heels with life science sector growth. Staying on top will require funding support for the next four years for this initiative, and funding for long-term growth.

“We’re looking for the legislature to continue to fund us aggressively in the next four years, and we’re hoping in 2018…we will (receive additional investment). There’s a lot to do and there’s a lot of states (competing),” Barrister said.

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