Some Biotechs Love New York—Hindrances and All

8/31/11

New Yorkers who follow technology trends know our state is losing jobs in life sciences. Many people in the industry believe it’s because New York is inhospitable to biotech. In the words of a recent academic report, “the state taxes too much, regulates too much [and] has fostered a generally risk averse atmosphere…” The exodus includes biotech startups as well as large pharmaceutical companies, according to the report, which was released in April by the nonprofit Public Policy Institute of New York State, Inc. (PPI). Some 3,000 biopharmaceutical manufacturing jobs were lost in New York in 2010 or are now on the block, according to the PPI. The multiplier effect is at least 10 support positions lost for each of these slots.

Given this background, you might wonder why I founded Acorda Therapeutics in New York, and why I have kept it here for the past 15 years.

I won’t deny that Acorda has struggled with this choice at times, reaching a crossroads earlier this year. We had outgrown our headquarters in Hawthorne, NY, and aggressive incentive packages beckoned to us—not just from the usual suspects, like Boston and New Jersey, but from other states that have made recent inroads in fostering biotech hubs. Instead, I chose to move just five miles down the road, to a new life science campus in Ardsley. I hope my reasons for staying in Westchester will provide a counterpoint to the PPI report and encourage other New York biotech entrepreneurs wrestling with the relocation decision to stay in the Empire State.

First of all, I believe the investment environment dissected by the PPI is less brittle than the report implies. Acorda was able to form effective partnerships with Empire State Development Corporation (ESDC), County of Westchester Industrial Development Agency, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and the County of Westchester. Together we crafted an economic incentive package that was competitive with what we might have obtained in New Jersey, Massachusetts or North Carolina.

In return for our 15-year lease of about 138,000 square feet of laboratory and office space, we received tax credits of up to $5.2 million as part of the New York State Excelsior Jobs Program, an employment-creation initiative administered by ESDC. We’re also eligible for tax credits of up to $1.15 million through the County of Westchester and for additional incentives through NYSERDA. These incentives weren’t giveaways. We committed to increasing our footprint in New York. We plan to keep close to 200 jobs here and create up to 190 new positions over the next several years.

Acorda and other companies in Westchester that view the area as a viable biotech hub have joined an initiative called NY BioHud Valley, aimed at nurturing New York’s first biopharmaceutical “hot spot” in the Hudson Valley. Some of the 60 plus members benefit from one of the state’s most forward-looking programs, the Qualified Emerging Technology Company Credit, or QETC. They may also have access to the comptroller’s in-state private equity program, which has almost half a billion dollars available to invest in the region. And there’s $100 million in … Next Page »

Ron Cohen, M.D., is the President and CEO of Acorda Therapeutics. Follow @

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