Editor’s note: Excerpts from the Research Triangle Regional Partnership report cited below point to the challenges and competition the RTP region faces in the biotech sector as well as a series of recommendations.
The full report can be read online at:
Growth in the Face of Mounting Competition
As benchmark comparisons developed from an economic impact report released in 1999 by the Research Triangle Regional Partnership clearly illustrated, North Carolina and the Research Triangle Region has reaped its share of the benefits of that unprecedented life sciences industry employment growth in the past five years.
But a slowing economy and downturns in textiles, agriculture, and telecommunications have challenged industry, government, and higher education to together rethink future growth opportunities and needs, including the life sciences industry. North Carolina and the region are not alone in seeking these growth opportunities during this transition.
- California’s new Institutes for Sciences and Innovation at different campuses of the University of California system are seeking industry partnerships to add 20,000 new life sciences-related jobs for its graduates.
- The 2001 Texas Legislature appropriated $800 million for sciences, engineering, research and commercialization, including funding for seven new or expanded health sciences centers.
- Michigan has committed $1 billion over twenty years to move life sciences development forward, and Pennsylvania has legislated over $30 million to create three “greenhouse” life sciences incubators across the state.
- Closer to home, Georgia and Virginia are actively pursuing life sciences development. The Georgia Research Alliance, a consortium of the state’s research institutions and private sector leaders, is leading a $300 million effort to recruit the nation’s top scholars in biotechnology and other sciences disciplines.
- The $80 million Yes Virginia state marketing efforts are competing directly with Research Triangle Region economic developers in industry attraction efforts.
With these new competitive realities, the Research Triangle Region has no choice but to thoughtfully re-examine its life sciences industry assets and reinvigorate efforts to retain and expand the region’s industry.Industry Survey Feedback
An industry survey was sent to 102 life sciences companies in the thirteen county region of the Research Triangle Regional Partnership area. Thirty-one companies or 32% percent of the companies responded to the survey from the June 2002 time period.
Data gathered from the survey and interviews with selected companies confirms that the industry has not only provided strong job stability in a stagnant state economy, but has actually increased in the number of new life sciences jobs and boosted secondary job creation through construction, purchases of goods and services, and value-added tax revenues for the region and state.
From a 1999 benchmark study completed for the Research Triangle Regional Partnership and the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, this updated information clearly illustrates that the regional life sciences firms are currently the only technology industry that continue to grow in a very challenging economic environment in the overall economy of the region.
- The region possesses a quality and diversified human resource pool for life sciences jobs, many of which were trained at North Carolina higher education institutions.
- The region possesses a renowned cluster of top-quality universities and research centers that provide the essential intellectual property used in commercialization applications and an innovative academic environment for industry interaction in curriculum development and students recruitment.
- The presence of world-class, multi-national life sciences corporations provide an assortment of commercialization and collaboration opportunities for growing companies in the region.
- A moderate operations overhead for conducting business relative to other top-tier life sciences industry clusters provides added funding for research and development.
- The region enjoys a strong set of entrepreneurial resource support mechanisms including the Council for Entrepreneurial Development and the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.
- The crippling economic downturn in the state’s economy over the past two years has put a budget strain on publicly supported programs that support small company development, including the North Carolina Biotechnology Center and the University of North Carolina system.
- Venture capital investment in the region’s life sciences companies is depriving local firms of important sources of early funding vital to long-term viability. According to the 2003 VentureOne U.S. venture capital survey, funding for Triangle area companies actually decreased $21 million to $360 million in 2002. This funding for the region’s companies translates into less than one-fourth of one percent (.025) of the total $19.4 billion invested last year across the nation.
- Public infrastructure including roads and water and the lack of convenient flights to Europe and the West Coast continue to slow development of commercialization opportunities.
Strategies for Sustained Growth
From the survey and interviews for the report, companies have made it clear that the Research Triangle Region continues to possess a number of industry attraction and retention efforts that focus on different stages of life sciences development. —
Strategy One: Enhance the entrepreneurial climate of the life sciences industry in the Research Triangle Region through increases in venture capital funding and other mechanisms to promote fiscal stability for the partnership.
Strategy Two: Develop a skilled life sciences work-force plan of action that complements the anticipated growth in jobs for researchers and technicians essential for sustained growth and extension of quality of job opportunities for Research Triangle Region residents.
Strategy Three: Energize the role of research universities and hospitals to cooperate in technology transfer partnerships.
Strategy Four: Develop and implement a marketing strategy to advance the life sciences industry growth in the Research Triangle Region and state.
- Create “Life Sciences Knowledge” regional marketing themes and company target program.
- Organize a Research Triangle Region Life Sciences Advisory Board
- Create and link a life sciences-specific web site to the Region’s county economic development agencies.
- Implement a coordinated in-state marketing campaign to expand citizen and government awareness of current and emerging Life Sciences industry successes.