Just recently, the Boston Globe reported that Massachusetts Governor Charles Baker signed into law a bill that will give about half a billion dollars to the life sciences industry over the next five years.
As the leading hub of life science innovation in the world, this new commitment provides Massachusetts with additional resources that will allow for greater education, training and incentives for a new generation of life science leaders. It also shows just how much the state values the contributions of the industry as a key economic driver and medical innovator.
Yet, while this funding is clearly a step in the right direction, history has shown us time and time again that in order to make a lasting impression and have a significant impact on the state’s economy, funding incentives need to open up job opportunities for all types of workers and keep business close to home.
A Lesson from the Woolen Mills
Take, for example, textile manufacturing during the Industrial Revolution. It fast became the dominant industry in Massachusetts and across New England, making the region a manufacturing powerhouse in America. Woolen and leather mills in cities, such as Waltham, Lowell, Peabody and Lynn brought a surge in jobs and wealth to the state. The key to its success was that it brought jobs to thousands of people across the region. It wasn’t just the owners, senior-level execs and highly educated workforce that benefitted, but all types of workers – from factory workers, to day laborers, to clerical help and suppliers. Textile manufacturing opened up opportunities across the supply chain and business ecosystem and for that reason it changed the state.
Another example of industry impacting the state’s economy and position in the world is the success of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), which was acquired by Compaq Computer and then merged with Hewlett Packard. From 1957 until 1992 DEC’s headquarters were (ironically) in a former woolen mill in Maynard, Mass. At its heyday in the late 1980s, Maynard-based Digital Equipment was one of the world’s leading computer manufacturers and the second largest employer in Massachusetts.
Extending the Economic Impact of Life Science Innovation
Massachusetts is a leading hub for the life sciences industry, employing more than 100,000 people in the field, yet thousands more jobs, such as those in chemical manufacturing, are outsourced to locations overseas or across the state. Jobs that with additional funding and other incentives could be kept in the state – doubling or tripling the employment figures for the field.
If the textile or tech industries could make such an impact on the state’s industry and economy, imagine what the life sciences industry could do when we keep business here in Massachusetts – from research fellows to chemists to manufacturing workers.
As this most recent funding legislation demonstrates, the majority of life sciences funding has gone toward incentivizing education, training and early- stage research, as well as incentives to attract and retain highly educated, high salaried employees. But more is needed to keep the outgrowth of that talent here in the state.
Let’s face it, Massachusetts is an optimum region for life sciences firms to settle. The state boasts one of the largest number of research universities in the country and is the epicenter for R&D. In addition, it has a huge proportion of private institutions that are on the leading edge of disease treatment worldwide.
This fertile breeding ground has led to generous research and start-up funding, which has further spurred ground-breaking innovation and treatment options that have marked Massachusetts as the innovation state.
Yet, those same companies that have been the beneficiaries of state funding that led to drug and medical device breakthroughs, often have shipped off manufacturing of those drugs and devices to low-cost overseas locations that provide better tax breaks or to states with lower real estate costs for manufacturing facilities. This makes sense given the expensive real estate and costs of living in Massachusetts.
There’s no doubt that Massachusetts has greatly benefited from drug companies that have chosen the state to conduct research & development and bring life-changing treatments to the market. But we need to find a way to keep them here, giving them the tax incentives to build manufacturing operations in the state and providing bigger incentives to those companies that keep manufacturing operations in-state.
Massachusetts’ investment in education, training and start-up grants is a valuable initiative that is the spark to innovation, research and growth of the next generation of life science professionals. It’s what sets the state apart. What is key, however, is finding a way to develop an over-arching strategic plan that helps us invest a dollar today to get a return ten years from now, providing the full lifecycle of product development and delivery.
As the state’s storied textile history has proven, in addition to providing a fertile breeding ground for entrepreneurial success, we need to make sure that the drug products, medical devices and treatments created in Massachusetts, are also made in Massachusetts, filling jobs across the spectrum of workers.
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