Bostonians have long lamented the flight of young technical talent, smarting over Facebook, which decamped in 2004 from a Harvard dorm room to Silicon Valley, and a long-list of other would-be Zuckerbergs blinded by the California sunshine and drawn by the buzz, community, and money of the Bay Area.
But Boston doesn’t have a brain-drain problem when it comes to biotechnology, finding itself in the enviable position of being the poacher rather than the poached, according to recruiters.
In fact, Boston is attracting top executive talent from the San Francisco Bay Area, including George A. Scangos,chief executive of Biogen Idec Inc. of Weston, who joined the company in 2010 from Exelixis Inc., in South San Francisco; and Craig A. Wheeler, chief executive of Momenta Pharmaceuticals Inc. of Cambridge, previously president of Chiron BioPharmaceuticals, of Emeryville, Calif
“For a recruiter,” said Bruce Rychlik, managing partner of Park Square Executive Search in Cambridge and Menlo Park, Calif., “Boston is an easy sell.”
What makes Boston an easy sell, Rychlik said, is similar to what made Silicon Valley the world’s leading tech sector: a rich ecosystem of research institutions, venture capital, entrepreneurs and companies of all sizes. That means the region can offer the range of opportunities to attract the best and the brightest — and keep them here.
‘It’s not like technology, where we have to struggle to compete with California.’
For example, scientists might arrive in Boston to work for a large pharmaceutical company, but later decide to work for a start-up. Or they might want to switch to a hospital research lab, or maybe launch their own companies. Boston has the resources for any of these pursuits.
“Virtually anyone can come to Boston, at any point in their career, and find enough to keep them happy and engaged,” said Rychlik. “A candidate knows that if they come here for an opportunity and it doesn’t work out, there will be other opportunities. You can’t say that about a job in Ohio or Colorado.”
The number of biotech job openings in Massachusetts doubled between 2010 and 2011, according to an index by Bullhorn Inc., a recruiting software provider based in Boston.
By comparison, job openings in North Carolina and California declined a few percentage points each during the same period. Nationwide, biotech job openings were up about 5 percent from 2010 to 2011.
Bullhorn officials attributed the jump in biotech openings in Boston to the growth of the local industry as companies expanded, start-ups launched, and global pharmaceutical companies invested here.
The turning point in the region’s biotech cluster may have occurred in 2004, when the pharmaceutical giant Novartis International AG of Basel, Switzerland opened a division in Cambridge, said Pearl Freier, president of Cambridge BioPartners Inc., an executive search firm serving biotech and health care technology industries. Global firms such as Sanofi-Aventis of Paris and AstraZeneca of London have followed.
“It’s not like technology, where we have to struggle to compete with California,” said Freier. “There’s this feeling in biotech that we’re number one.”
Recruiters, however, said Boston can’t get complacent, and needs to support the entire ecosystem, not just selected components.
“It’s the combination of all the elements that makes the difference,” said Rychlik. “If one of them goes away — the VC community or the start-up culture, for example — it could really hurt the region.”
One way to ensure that the region continues to create a wide variety of jobs, said Jim Connolly, leader of US Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers, a consulting firm based in New York, is to foster the creation of more homegrown companies.
A corporate headquarters that employs 500 people has a greater impact than a research division of a global firm that has the same number of employees, Connolly said.
That’s because the headquarters will generate more related employment as it is likely to hire local firms for accounting, legal services, public relations, and other support.
“Just as a company needs a pipeline of products, Boston needs a pipeline of companies,” he said. “We don’t want to be a branch town.”