Biotech employment, salaries weather a stormy economic downturn

It's no secret that state economic development officials have been hunting biotechs for years, anxious to recruit companies that by and large offer good salaries and the kind of new technologies and growth potential that politicians lust for. And the biotech industry likes that rep just fine. So when Battelle issued its annual view of the employment picture for the Biotechnology Industry Organization at this year's confab, its analysts could be expected to highlight the addition of 96,000 new industry jobs over a decade that stretched from 2001 to 2010.

Taking an expansive view of what counts for biotech, Battelle counted 1,605,533 bioscience jobs in the U.S. in 2010, adding jobs over a rough economic era that saw setbacks in a variety of industries. Most of those jobs, 87,000 to be exact, were added in research, testing and laboratories, in keeping with the steady rise in R&D expenses at top biotech and pharma companies.

Narrow that statistical window, though, to the economic turmoil taking place since 2007 and the picture turns slightly sour, with a 1.4% drop in employment in the industry. Still, Battelle sees the downturn as a relative win, given the 6.9% plunge in private sector employment. Against that kind of record, a marginal decline in employment looks pretty good. And they're right, especially if you consider that the average biotech job paid $82,697 in 2010, $36,000 better than the average.

Over the past decade, some states have done better than others at this. Massachusetts, home to one of the healthiest biotech hubs in the world, saw a 15.4% increase in employment over the decade. And the average salary in the competitive market was a bit better than $105,000. California, Texas and Arizona were also among the short list of states which saw biotech employment growth over the 2007-2010 period.

"The bioscience industry is still resilient, even through these difficult economic times," said Mitch Horowitz, the vice president and managing director of Battelle's Technology Partnership Practice.

BIO always has a legislative agenda to pursue, and the kind of jobs and income that the industry offers is one of the cards it plays in Washington D.C. Based on Battelle's report, it's not a bad hand.

- here's the press release with a link to the full report

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