As many other industries around them contracted, the biotech and medical-device sectors in Massachusetts added more than 8,000 jobs over the past five years. What’s more, while life-sciences employment nationwide increased 12 percent nationally since 2000, Massachusetts’ grew more than twice as fast. The state’s edge? The Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, according to a recent Boston Foundation report. With these kinds of results, the center is one job-creating initiative lawmakers should continue to fund generously.
The Life Sciences Center is a quasi-public agency meant to invest in life-sciences research, development, and commercialization through capital grants, business loans, and tax credits. Governor Patrick once projected the $1 billion scheme, launched in 2008, would create 250,000 jobs over 10 years. Even without the economy’s collapse, that forecast was beyond wishful thinking. But it also shouldn’t cancel out what the center has accomplished. Besides job growth, researchers found that the $360 million the state has spent so far has generated $1 billion in spending by private companies. Eight out of 10 of the world’s largest pharmaceutical firms are now doing business in Massachusetts. New workers are paid, on average, $105,000, and are expected to pay more than $93 million in income and sales taxes to the state over the next five years.
It can often be hard to gauge the effectiveness of government incentives to entice businesses to expand or move into the state, but the life-sciences initiative appears to be making the grade, thanks to its efforts to cultivate an ecosystem that starts with world-class universities, provides a fertile environment for small start-ups, and, in turn, attracts larger corporations that prize being in close proximity to breakthrough science. This cluster has created jobs at a faster pace than any other sector in the state over the past decade.
Another major difference is the rigorous approval process for funding, overseen by industry and academic experts as well as government employees. Matching from private sources is required, and the center can recoup money if job-creation goals aren’t met.
Consequently, each dollar in tax incentives awarded is expected to generate $1.66 in added tax revenue. Nonetheless, due to the economic downturn, the Legislature has only given the program about one-third of its targeted funds halfway through. Even in the current budget debate, the Senate’s funding still falls $10 million short and in the House, $15 million short. Being discussed in conference committee now, lawmakers should favor the Senate proposal. Funding the life-sciences initiative for its remaining five years would be a solid investment in the state’s economic future.