AT THE END a few months we saw a new biofabrication facility open at the New Bedford Office Park; one of the largest life sciences campuses in the state takes shape in Woburn; a biotech company is closing in on construction just miles from the Boston Marathon start line in Hopkinton, and Worcester continues to grow its major life sciences hub. Malden, Beverly and Billerica as biotechnology mini-clusters? It happens, and it didn’t happen by accident.
Regionalization is an essential step not only to maintain state dominance in biotechnology research and development, but also to assert its claim to biomanufacturing, while diversifying the workforce.
Lexington is a city that has embraced the life sciences industry and is already reaping the benefits. From 2020 to 2022 alone, 16 life science companies moved to Lexington, bringing the city’s total to 48.
Lexington made an intentional decision early on to welcome biopharmaceutical companies and took steps to enact regulations and zoning to attract industry. To answer residents’ questions about sustainability and safety, Lexington continues to host public forums to start conversations and provide education about the benefits of growing life sciences. The city has spent years on planning and communication and is seeing it all pay off.
Cities that invest their time and effort in attracting life science companies see an influx of job opportunities once projects are completed, not to mention construction jobs initially. Many of these new jobs only require a four-year degree, and in the case of many entry-level jobs, particularly in biomanufacturing, individuals can begin successful careers without a bachelor’s degree.
Once developed, lab and biofabrication spaces drive the economic viability of a community when in person, every day, employees create foot traffic throughout the city, which directly benefits restaurants, cafes and more. suppliers. Bringing customers back to local businesses and attracting new customers is a major benefit of expanding life sciences into a region, and exactly what small local businesses need after two tough years.
Community members can experience the direct benefits of lab space through a diverse municipal tax base and increased tax revenue for their local government. In turn, cities have the opportunity to invest in schools, community centers, improving public services and repairing critical infrastructure. This benefits the entire ecosystem within cities and cleans up necessary fixes that may have been postponed due to other funding priorities.
The development of life sciences can also instill a sense of civic pride. For Lexington in particular, two of the world’s top 20 life sciences companies now have a significant footprint in the city. Lexington was also home to seven companies helping develop a vaccine or therapy for COVID-19 during the height of the pandemic.
What is the common denominator between communities like Lexington, Hopkinton, New Bedford, Malden, Woburn, Beverly, Billerica and Worcester? They are all BioReady communities and nearly all are platinum rated. MassBio’s BioReady Community initiative assesses communities on their readiness to host biopharmaceutical companies. There are currently 90 BioReady communities across the Commonwealth all of which are committed to welcoming the life sciences industry, and many more are just steps away from achieving designation.
If a city or town is not yet BioReady, there is no better time than now to embark on and welcome the development of life sciences. In 2021, Massachusetts-based biopharmaceutical companies raised a total of $3.8 billion. Lexington biopharmaceutical companies alone have received $155 million in venture capital funding. And the industry continues to grow. In a recent survey of MassBio members, nearly 80% said they plan to hire this year.
MassBio has seen over the years that many communities steadily move from bronze to platinum ratings as their leaders realize the benefits of being BioReady in attracting development. It all starts with a survey of water and sewer access, zoning of lab space and manufacturing entitlement, and pre-permit or permit, followed by a basic infrastructure capacity. Lexington has found that creating a predictable sequence of permits and having a designated contact at city hall helps move forward in the timeline of the zoning process, the third step.
And where will growing companies find new talent to fill new buildings? MassBio’s workforce analysis released in June found that “the ecosystem needs to move away from four-year-plus degrees toward apprenticeship-type programs,” and that the state can take advantage of regional resources and networks by developing role-specific certification programs in collaboration with community colleges. When more employers locate off Highway 128, in suburban and mid-sized urban centres, new diverse populations will have access to lifelong careers.
Gateway cities have natural assets, including young, hard-working residents and large, underutilized industrial sites close to public transportation and walkable amenities. Prioritizing regionalization in these centers of regional economies will draw on substantial public investment and leverage the minority-serving institutions already operating there.
MassBio knows what our members need to grow and we know what it will take to bring new businesses to the Bay State. The City of Lexington is living proof of what can be done when local leaders and residents agree to open the door to innovation, research and treatment in their hometown. Patients around the world rely on life-saving science from Massachusetts communities.
Kendalle Burlin O’Connell is president and chief operating officer of MassBio and Sandhya Iyer is Lexington’s Director of Economic Development.