News Column

Wisconsin is one of top states in biotech job growth, report shows

June 26, 2014

By Judy Newman, The Wisconsin State Journal



June 26--Wisconsin's bioscience industry is "sizable and growing," and Madison is a significant hub in several specialty areas, a report on biotech in the U.S. said.

Wisconsin was one of 12 states to gain at least 1,000 jobs in the biotech and life sciences field between 2007 and 2012, according to the biennial Battelle/BIO report on the bioscience industry in the U.S. The study was released Tuesday at the international BIO conference in San Diego.

It said Wisconsin had nearly 31,800 jobs and nearly 1,400 businesses in the bioscience industry in 2012, an 8.2 percent increase in employment in the field since 2007.

Jobs in both the drug industry and in research and testing rose more than 20 percent during that five-year time period, while jobs relating to medical devices had a 10 percent employment gain statewide. The Madison area, meanwhile, has a "specialized employment concentration" in four bioscience subsectors: drug development, medical devices, research and testing, and bioscience distribution, the report said. Madison is one of only nine metro regions nationwide to have a job concentration in four or more bioscience specialties.

Russ Smestad, founder of Biotech Profiles, a website that tracks biotechs in the Madison area, agreed that research tools and medical devices are two of the strongest bioscience specialties here, "without a doubt."

Drug development has strengthened, but "it's not as large as what we would like," added Smestad, who also is president of Stratatech Corp., a Madison company that is developing skin substitute products.

Nationwide, there were more than 73,000 bioscience companies with a total of 1.6 million employees in 2012. More than 110,000 jobs were added over the previous decade.

Although the recession took a toll, biotech weathered the difficult economy "better than most industries," the Battelle/BIO report said.

But it said there are "signs of stress," such as cuts in government funding and in capital investment, as well as "strong and growing" competition from other countries.

Wisconsin colleges and universities received $372 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health in 2013, but that's down from $450 million in 2009.

Bioscience companies in the state attracted $18.7 million from venture firms last year, down sharply from $101 million in 2010, the peak period in the past five years.

Smestad said the funding cuts are definitely a concern. "The venture funding is being shifted ever more away from biotech, which was a strength in the last decade. Now, it's focusing more on the IT (information technology) space," he said, as investors favor the shorter, less risky investment horizon for tech firms.

Smestad said both fields are important to support. "Both biotech and IT are certainly the types of jobs, the types of industries that you want to promote in Madison," he said.

Battelle is a Columbus, Ohio, research and development nonprofit; BIO, or Biotechnology Industry Organization, is the largest trade group representing the biotech industry.

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(c)2014 The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.)

Visit The Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, Wis.) at www.wisconsinstatejournal.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


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Source: Wisconsin State Journal (Madison, WI)


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