Is Your City or Town BioReady? Mass Biotech Council Wants to Make It Happen
I have to admit this idea made me snicker when I first heard it. The Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, a trade group for state biotech companies, has set up a new program to advise cities and towns on how best to lure life sciences companies to expand into their jurisdictions. It sounded to me more than a little self-serving, and more like a lesson in how to outhustle others towns in the corporate welfare game than a real community-building campaign. I figured many independent local governments would probably resent it.
Apparently, most don’t. Pete Abair, the Mass Biotech Council’s director for economic development, said the council has held five forums around the state so far this year that have been attended by 200 local government officials, representing 139 municipalities. The trade group’s goal for what it calls the “BioReady Community Campaign” is to reach out to all 351 municipalities and towns by year’s end. It intends to publish a booklet for member companies with platinum, gold, silver, and bronze rating scores for local governments depending on how “BioReady” they are when it comes to industry-suitable power supplies, water and sewer hookups, speedy permitting, and zoning.
The seminars last about two hours, and cover the basics of what biotech companies do. They usually incorporate a panel discussion between developers, municipal officials with experience working with the industry, real estate brokers, and a representative from a biotech company, Abair says.
So far, the council hasn’t gotten any flack for being perceived as a meddling bunch telling officials how to do their jobs. “That was a concern of ours,” Abair says. “We’re not forcing this industry down people’s throats. We’re providing a guide to them, if they are interested.”
Many of the local governments are motivated to attract a piece of the state’s big biotech business to their communities, Abair says. About 124 biotech companies are located in Boston and Cambridge, although another 260 now have operations outside that core geography, he says. And some towns have learned better than others what companies need for a site. Many municipalities, for instance, have a reputation for slow permitting that can discourage biotechs looking to open, say, a new manufacturing plant, Abair says. The council’s goal is to help any city that’s interested figure out how to better appeal to companies if they want them, while offering member companies an up-to-date catalog of sites for expansion they can consider immediately.
“As biotech companies move out of Cambridge and need lower- cost places for manufacturing, we want to make sure we have sites in the state that are ready,” Abair says. “We want to provide companies in Massachusetts with a guide for places that are spade-ready, and permitting can be had in an expedited fashion.”
The guide that rates municipalities is expected in October, Abair says. It will be interesting to see who the platinum-rated cities are, and whether certain other places will be happy about getting the bronze.