Economic development programs have always played an important role in boosting the U.S. biotech industry. When a company has to invest years and millions of dollars just to get started, it needs every advantage it can lay its hands on. Throw in a recession and a severe cash crunch that seemingly forces another developer into liquidation every few days, and the role of economic development becomes much, much more important.
Every spring FierceBiotech pores over a year's worth of economic development reports to find new initiatives that have a real chance to spark a burst of new biotech activity. Whether it's new money to spur research, a critical element in fostering new biotech companies, or direct and innovative support for developers, the regions we choose are stepping up with fresh ideas that have the potential to breed or expand biotech clusters.
Minnesota • Massachusetts • New York • Ontario • Colorado
This is the fourth annual Top 5 economic development report for FierceBiotech. Over that time California has been the clear trendsetter, creating a $3 billion bond program to support stem cell research in the face of a federal policy that was clearly designed to choke scientific work related to embryonic stem cells.
California was smart. It matched bond money to institutional support for research work, triggering an intense building program that is creating new facilities and luring researchers from around the country. And it inspired a host of other states to get active in the game, setting the bar 10-figures high. To compete, economic development groups around the country had to start thinking big.
Now that the federal government has fundamentally altered the rules of the ESC research game while bumping the overall amount it reserves for scientific inquiry, the program is becoming less critical to the entire stem cell field. And with the state's severe fiscal crisis, the state's stem cell agency has been undergoing some real stress.
So after several years of setting the pace for innovation and focus, California is coming off the Top 5 list.
Florida's game plan for luring in major new research centers with state funds was nothing short of brilliant. Those institutions will breed new start-ups just as certainly as sowing a spring garden will deliver tomatoes in the fall. And the tie-in with the creative types at the state's universities will spur innovation and growth.
But state lawmakers have been scaling back their support for the industry. That strategy could be penny wise and pound foolish, but the state has definitely moved up the ladder of top contenders for eventual cluster status. In the meantime, Florida is also coming off the list.
New programs in places like Minnesota--which is tying state support to a private venture commitment to back biotech companies--New York and Ontario in Canada, meanwhile, have been coming on strong. Massachusetts, which stepped up to the plate with a billion-dollar plan of its own, is taking extra steps to encourage further growth of one of the country's biggest clusters.
The challenge for many states, now, will be to keep finding ways to boost biotech while their budgets are blighted by the downturn. That won't be an easy task.
FierceBiotech has always had trouble comparing the way countries outside the U.S. and Canada manage their support for biotech. Singapore, China, Malaysia, India and Sweden, to select a few prominent examples, have all taken different approaches to boosting the industry. And comparing national programs with state and provincial initiatives has always seemed inequitable. So now we're splitting the field. This report will focus entirely on the Top 5 states and Canadian provinces encouraging biotech with innovative programs. In the fall we'll select the Top 5 countries outside of North America that foster life sciences work.
That's a better comparison, and gives FierceBiotech a chance to take a closer look at national programs that warrant much closer examination.
In the meantime, here is 2009's crop of top regions for North America: