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Veteran economic development manager Travis McCready nominated as life sciences center chief

Travis McCready, Governor Baker’s choice to lead the life sciences center, most recently oversaw grant-making and community economic development at the Boston Foundation.Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Veteran economic development manager Travis McCready, newly nominated as the next chief executive of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, promised Tuesday that the Baker administration would continue to aggressively promote the state’s biopharma and medical technology industries.

McCready’s nomination by Jay Ash, the state secretary of housing and economic development, must be approved by the life sciences center’s board on Wednesday to take effect. The top post at the state agency has been vacant since the center’s first chief executive, Susan Windham-Bannister, appointed by former governor Deval Patrick, departed in May. Michael J. Kennealy has served as interim CEO since June.


McCready, 45, is vice president for programs at the Boston Foundation. In an interview Tuesday, he said Governor Charlie Baker would seek to reauthorize the state’s 10-year life sciences initiative before it expires in June 2018. But he said the level and focus of state funding for the initiative have yet to be determined.

Still, McCready made it clear that Massachusetts would not retreat from supporting what he called a “bread and butter industry.”

“The degree to which the industry is involved in creating life-saving products is not lost on me,” he said. “We have to use every instrument at our disposal to attract life sciences companies to Massachusetts.”

McCready’s words may go a long way toward reassuring industry executives, who were dismayed that Baker initially weighed the possibility of merging the life sciences center into a larger economic development agency — an idea that has since been abandoned.

“Susan Windham-Bannister was superb in her outreach across the industry, convening and connecting,” said Deborah Dunsire, president of Forum Pharmaceuticals of Waltham and former president of Millennium Pharmaceuticals of Cambridge. Patrick “made a commitment of $1 billion to this industry, and I’d love to see that continue,” she said.

“The community’s looking for sustained support for the biotech sector,” said Christopher Viehbacher, managing partner of Gurnet Point Capital who previously ran Cambridge-based Genzyme’s parent Sanofi SA. “Governor Patrick was obviously a strong supporter.”


McCready, who oversaw grant-making and community economic development at the Boston Foundation, said he hoped to pursue an “inside-out strategy” at the life sciences center.

Within the state, he said, the administration would seek to boost educational programs to prepare more students for life sciences careers and improve transportation in industry hotbeds like traffic-choked Kendall Square in Cambridge.

“We also have to have a strong outside game,” McCready said. States including North Carolina, Texas, and New York are increasing efforts to attract industry talent and companies, he said, so “we have to improve our position around the world and employ whatever tools we have at our disposal to bring companies to Massachusetts.

“Everybody around the country is trying to eat our lunch and steal our talent,” McCready said, echoing some of the fears of industry leaders.

Business leaders have privately questioned whether the extension of loans, grants, and tax breaks to life sciences companies would be a priority for Baker, amid criticism from some fiscal conservatives that government shouldn’t play a role in underwriting business development.

The uncertainty increased when Ash told Massachusetts Biotechnology Council leaders in March that “our job is to show up and question everything before us.” Neither Baker nor Ash attended the annual Biotechnology Industry Organization convention in June; the gathering in past years had been a popular forum for Patrick, who launched the state’s life sciences initiative.


McCready, who previously worked as executive director of the Kendall Square Association and chief operating officer at the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority, sought to put the industry’s concerns to rest. But if the board confirms his nomination, McCready said, he would have to examine the life sciences center’s budgets and programs before laying out a new strategy.

“We want to make sure that our numbers are very defensible and rooted in the data and the experience over the past 7½ years at the life sciences center,” he said.

Among other things, he said, the state would examine how to balance its support between larger biopharma companies with job-creating potential and smaller startups that employ fewer people but carry the potential for substantial growth. He also said the state should work to expand the industry outside of the Route 128 beltway and back industry subsectors such as biomanufacturing and bioinformatics, as well as research and development.

“There is a degree of diversification that we can achieve within the life sciences sector so that all of our eggs are not in the research and development sector alone,” McCready said.

McCready, who was born and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., and earned degrees from Yale University and the University of Iowa College of Law, had only words of praise for the life sciences center under the Patrick administration.

“The life sciences center was a startup,” he said. “They started the center from scratch and built what I think the industry would say is a hell of an economic development agency in supporting a bread-and-butter industry.”


To date, the life sciences center has spent $614 million of the $1 billion in investment initially planned to attract companies and create jobs over a decade.

As chief executive, Windham-Bannister earned $285,000 a year to lead the center.

Jeff Lockwood, global head of communications at Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, who dealt with McCready when he was at the Kendall Square Association and the Boston Foundation, said he is a strong choice for the life sciences center.

“To me, Travis is one of the most creative and thoughtful people working in Cambridge and Boston,” Lockwood said.

Robert Weisman can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeRobW.