DC Matters, But Biotech Can’t Neglect City Hall
Biotechnology companies who’ve taken time to focus on politics over the last few years have focused most of their attention on national-level issues. That’s understandable given the renewal of the Prescription Drug User Fee Act that controls FDA deadlines for reviewing new drug applications, legislation that would make it possible for makers of cheaper “biosimilar” drugs to compete with innovative companies, and now proposals to extend healthcare coverage to all Americans.
Each of these issues has an obvious impact on future business and biotech executives have significant lobbying support on these issues. National and state-level business organizations like the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) have identified key issues, provided access to key lawmakers, and created plug-and-play messaging suitable to their respective issues.
That sort of assistance crumbles when the focus shifts closer to home, at the city level. Most biotech executives don’t spend any significant time concentrating on local issues, and I happen to think this is a dangerous trend that must be reversed.
Here in Seattle, city leaders have extolled the virtues of biotech. Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood has been given particular attention, with goals of creating a hub for scientific research, biotech companies, and global health to compete with other such clusters across the country.
That sounds great, until you look at the specifics. Local developers have done a good job of building and/or planning buildings for this purpose. However, the city is behind on infrastructure spending and there is not enough electrical power infrastructure in place to support all the lab space being created. That’s an obvious operational problem that Seattle’s city hall missed, but not all local issues so clearly affect biotech companies.
Here in the greater Seattle area we haven’t figured out how to fund and operate convenient transit service, even within the city limits. Traffic in the main east/west arterial (Mercer Street) in our future biotech center is miserable and has been miserable for decades. The current plan to address this will make the streetscape more attractive, which is a good thing since drivers will be spending more time looking at it. The current plan actually increases east/west traffic time on the corridor. Seattle schools perhaps can no longer be termed in “disarray,” but nobody is satisfied with the quality of education, particularly science education, across the system.
These issues are important because if biotech executives want their companies to grow, they have to be able to attract and retain great people. Seattle already has a recruiting handicap … Next Page »