Public Policy Institute on How to Boost Biotech in New York: More Jobs, Better Teamwork, Fewer Taxes

4/12/11Follow @arleneweintraub

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in New York is $72,486—30 percent lower than the national mean.

So, what can New York’s legislators do to propel the state into the pantheon of biopharmaceutical powerhouses? First, the PPI suggests, it should create institutions that nurture career development in the sciences, as well as incentives for young people to seek jobs in the industry. The report’s authors argue for the creation of academic incubators equipped with wet labs, and technology parks that foster collaborations between academic scientists and pharmaceutical companies. And they urge the state to offer a personal income tax credit to people that earn a bachelor’s in science or engineering from a New York university.

Speaking of taxes, the PPI lays out a number of strategies that the state could employ to make New York a more hospitable place for biotech entrepreneurs. When you add up personal income tax, sales tax, energy and real estate taxes, New York has the highest tax burden in the country, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute. Among the PPI’s suggested solutions are adopting Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to cap property tax growth at 2 percent; doubling the value of the Excelsior program, which provides tax credits to biopharmaceutical firms that move to New York or expand their presence in the state; and granting tax credits to support capital investments in buildings and research equipment.

Such tax incentives, Briccetti argued during the NYBA gathering, would benefit all industries, because it would send a broad message that “New York is serious about building our tech economy.”

New York should also work harder to market itself as a biotech hotbed, the PPI says. Many people might be surprised to learn that New York hosted 3,267 clinical trials in 2010, putting it in second place behind California. “The state should market its clinical trials,” Briccetti said at the conference. “We need to create a Web site or something that shows where we rank, so we can attract more companies to the state.”

The report also argues for better coordination between the government and universities, economic development councils and other organizations-an idea that’s echoed among people working in those settings. “That’s why biotech hasn’t flourished here-it hasn’t been the focus of the state or local governments,” says Sharon Seiler, senior manager of technology and development at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York. “They pay us lip service and focus more on sports teams.”

The lack of robust, coordinated government support hurts biotech startups, too. NYBA executive director Nathan Tinker said during the conference that New York biotech companies rank 7th in the nation for venture capital funding. “As much as you hear about VCs liking to invest in their own backyard, New York venture capitalists like to travel apparently,” he said, clearly annoyed.

In New York City, biotech has been pegged as vital to the growth of the local economy. In his January state of the city address, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said: “We’ll bring together the leaders in ‘eds and meds’—our academic institutions and bioscience firms—to map New York’s course to the top in that growth industry.” The New York City Economic Development Corp. (NYCEDC) has launched a number of initiatives in response to the mayor’s call. For example, it is currently evaluating proposals from universities and other institutions interested in developing and operating an applied sciences research facility in the city. Potential sites include the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the Goldwater Hospital on Roosevelt Island near Manhattan.

The PPI’s Briccetti predicted the report would be well received, even by the people it criticizes. “There’s a real failure to recognize the impact this industry has on our economy,” she said during the NYBA panel discussion. “I’m very encouraged that this report will have a receptive audience.” No doubt the state’s eds and meds will have plenty to say about it.

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