FRAMINGHAM – Continued investment is needed, officials said, if Massachusetts is to retain its preeminent place in the life sciences industry.
Representatives from business, education and state and local government met Wednesday morning to discuss the importance of the industry to the Framingham and MetroWest areas, and how the region might attract more investment in the future. The event was sponsored by the Framingham Economic Development and Industrial Corporation (EDIC) and the MetroWest Chamber of Commerce as a way of examining workforce trends.
Mike Gatlin, the chairman of the EDIC, said Framingham benefited from the state’s life sciences industry, even in ways that might not be obvious. He used the example of a new company in Boston.
“Framingham offers a lot of services to support what they do – things like uniforms, office supplies and housing for the workforce,” he said. “All this is part of the great, big circle of life.”
State Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, made the case for a bill investing $500 million in the commonwealth’s life sciences efforts, similar to the one that had established the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (MLSC). Though the state was a leader in the field, competition had grown tight, she said.
“Other states are nipping at our heels; unless we keep doing this, we could fall behind,” she said.
The initial bill, said Spilka, included $13 million in infrastructure that helped bring Genzyme to Framingham. In the time since, she said, the company had invested much more in the state’s workforce, and is now the largest life sciences employer in the state.
“If the government hadn’t partnered with them, this may never have happened,” she said.
Framingham Town Manager Bob Halpin spoke of improving the town’s reputation for business friendliness. He said a culture focused on problem-solving had improved things, as had a willingness to re-examine the town’s industrial and commercial tax rate.
Travis McCready, president and CEO of the MLSC, said his center had economic development and science components to it, but he felt its educational advocacy efforts were the key to continued success.
“We’ve spent a large amount of time and significant amount of capital making sure there is a wide-apertured and efficient pipeline to get people into the life sciences industry,” he said, discussing the internships and high school apprenticeships the center helps fund. “We’ve provided funds to every single vocational and technical school in Massachusetts.”
McCready said that while Framingham won’t attract every single life sciences firm that comes to the state, it will see benefits, and the center will work to ensure development happens throughout Massachusetts. He said competition had made continued state investment necessary; in 2008, he said, eight states had public funding to support the life sciences, while 42 do now.
Industry and education officials spoke in a panel about the benefits and challenges MetroWest-area life sciences companies faced. Kevin Flynn, of Boston Heart Diagnostics, said the firms could attract people from other parts of the state who may not wish to work in Boston, and other members agreed that lower costs were a boon for regional firms.
Gabrile Brambilla, of Alira Health, said attracting younger talent was difficult, as the area had fewer attractions and social-life opportunities than Boston.
Mike Gleason can be reached at 508-634-7546 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For news throughout the day, follow him on Twitter @MGleason_MDN.