North Carolina Biotechnology Center CEO Norris Tolson and other representatives of the state’s biotech industry will make their case to North Carolina lawmakers on Wednesday that life science programs, many of them administered by the Biotech Center, are deserving of continued state support.

Bolstering the case will be a new report from the Battelle Technology Partnership Practice that concludes that investment in the sciences has created jobs and added to the state’s tax base propelling North Carolina into position behind only California and Massachusetts in the size of its life sciences industry.

According to the Battelle report, life science firms employ more than 58,000 North Carolinians who earn an average annual wage of $78,000.

Including jobs boosted by the biotech sector, the report concludes that biotech-related employment now numbers nearly 238,000 and generates some $1.73 billion in state and local taxes. More than 500 companies are involved in the sector.

From 2001 to 2010, North Carolina’s life sciences industry grew 23.5 percent. In that same period, private sector jobs declined 2.8 percent.

Tolson notes the industry’s growth in North Carolina stood out as a bright spot as other industries and other biotech regions lost jobs.

“Even during the downturn, the only positive job growth was in the life sciences,” Tolson told WRAL Tech Wire. “It wasn’t huge. But almost every other (biotech) cluster in the country lost jobs.”

The report will be presented Wednesday afternoon during a reception at the North Carolina History Museum in Raleigh.

The industry trade group NCBIO is hosting the event. Mitch Horowitz from Battelle will present the data. There will also be a CEO panel discussion. The life science organization NCBIO sent a general invitation to all lawmakers.

Tolson acknowledged that economic challenges persist for the state. But he said that the taxpayer-supported Biotech Center, whose support includes a loan program for emerging companies, plays a key role in nurturing life science startups to a point where they can get angel and venture capital funding. Helping those companies grow is important for helping North Carolina’s economy grow, he explained.

Biotech’s impact extends beyond direct employment of life science workers. Tolson noted that the report found that for every life science job created in North Carolina, an additional three or four jobs tied to the industry are created.

Battelle also reviewed 74 companies that received Biotech Center loans and found that those firms generate $71 million a year in state and local tax revenue.

That figure represents nearly four times the state’s annual appropriation for the Biotech Center.