Massachusetts creates a new biotech economic development model
If some of the most ambitious states can be criticized for anything, itâ€™s limiting the scope of their support to a specific research field like stem cells. Massachusetts is poised to go after a much more ambitious agenda, and state officials--led by Governor Deval Patrick--are factoring in the kinds of figures that could have a big impact around the Boston area, home to one of the biggest biotech clusters in the world.
Massachusetts already has good credentials as a leader in the biotech field. The scientific brains at MIT and Harvard and other institutions in the college-rich Boston area spawned the kind of development programs that helped spur the creation of a host of new companies. And as the companies grew up, the hub effect started to take over, with venture capitalists moving in and executives leaving to form their own start-ups. Itâ€™s the kind of basic, ground-up approach to hub-building that several other states on this list are hoping to foster.
But the state has also earned a reputation as a tough place to do business of any kind. Simple things like permitting new facilities became a notorious chore. The cost of living is high. And many of the development incentives that other states have touted for years have been absent in Massachusetts.
The Legislature appears ready to OK the final version of a long contested bill that will provide $1 billion in backing for biotechnology. Much of that money will go to a new life sciences center at the University of Massachusetts, with other funds for tax incentives, new equipment purchases and training. Stem cell research isnâ€™t neglected. Massachusetts intends to become the largest repository of new stem cell lines for research. There are also plenty of reported strings on this money, including one provision that may require any companies that benefit from their funds to have their U.S. headquarters in the state. In a global business like biotechnology, parochial concerns like that would only blunt the initiativeâ€™s intended effect.
Nevertheless, if the incentives perform as expected, Massachusetts has the potential to become a new kind of trendsetter, creating an incentive program that a broad range of states can compete with.