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State Senator Christine Cohen (D-12) and the state legislature’s Bioscience Caucus were briefed last month by a private-sector bioscience industry advocate and by the commissioner of Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) on the next steps Connecticut must take in order to turn its blossoming bioscience industry, centered around New Haven, into a national hub of bioscience research, development, and jobs.
The next steps, they said, are building more lab space, training more bioscience graduates and recruiting executive bioscience talent, securing more venture capital investments, improving transportation options like airports and trains, and creating a state entity to manage a five-year bioscience investment plan.
“We have a newly re-energized bipartisan Bioscience Caucus here in the state legislature that recognizes the tremendous growth that the bioscience industry has already experienced in Connecticut, and we want to ensure that it continues to develop and thrive,” said Cohen, who is co-chair of the Bioscience Caucus, which seeks to strengthen and promote Connecticut’s robust life sciences and biotech industries. “What we heard today is that additional lab space is a critical component for real bioscience growth in Connecticut, as is the infusion of more venture capital and a trained workforce. That’s all something we in the legislature can help accomplish, working in cooperation with academia and private-sector companies.”
Dawn Hocevar, the president and CEO of New Haven-based BioCT, presented a 21-page report to the Bioscience Caucus titled “What is the Status of the Bioscience Industry in Connecticut?” In the report, Hocevar notes that Connecticut employs 17,000 people in the bioscience industry and ranks second in the country in academic bioscience research and development, fourth in bioscience patents and bioscience venture capital investments, and eighth in science and engineering doctoral degrees.
“The legislature has done a great job creating incentives for this industry,” Hocevar said. “The goal is to take the 17,000 jobs we have right now in the bioscience industry sector and build that up to over 30,000 jobs. And we need a plan to do that.”
Hocevar cited Pfizer, Boehringer Ingelheim, Alexion, Sema4, The Jackson Laboratory, and Medtronic as some of the leading bioscience employers in Connecticut, with average wages of $68,000 to $163,000 a year, far exceeding the average annual private-sector wage of $64,783 in Connecticut.
“If we can focus on this industry, not only will we be adding jobs in Connecticut, but we will be improving the quality of life in Connecticut,” Hocevar said.
DECD Commissioner David Lehman concurred, noting that the bioscience sector is one of four or five sector clusters that he and Governor Ned Lamont will focus on growing in the coming years.
“Bioscience is definitely going to be one of those industries,” Lehman said.
The challenges, they noted, are few:
• “Wet labs” are critical for both start-ups and so-called “graduation space”; developers often seek incentives to creates these types of laboratories.
• It’s critical for talent to match industry needs both now and in the future; expanding the “biopath” programs offered at some state colleges and public schools would help fill that need. Hocevar noted that for most of the life science industry jobs now in demand, an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree is all that is needed to secure a job in laboratory research, quality assurance and control, or manufacturing processes. Graduate degrees are needed for more advanced positions such as chemical analysis, cellular biology, drug development, and clinical research.
• Private venture capital firms need to include Connecticut companies in their portfolios, and these firms often look for a combination of bioscience, academia and manufacturing clusters when making a decision about where and if to invest.
• Executive teams in the bioscience industry need to be actively recruited; access to trains, airports and shuttles makes this recruitment, and the recruitment of other employees, easier.
• A state entity focused on bioscience needs to manage and oversee further investments in bioscience for at least the next half-decade.
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