GOVERNOR CHARLIE BAKER’S proposal this week to extend the state’s life sciences incentives for five years — at a cost of $500 million — represents a belated affirmation of former governor Deval Patrick’s original $1 billion, 10-year initiative, which was set to end next year. Although Baker has been reluctant to use government funds to “pick winners,” as he has put it, the Massachusetts life sciences industry is an overwhelming success story, well worth continued investment. Patrick’s vision has helped cement the Commonwealth’s status as a worldwide biotech leader, and Baker is wise to extend the funding, while giving it his own spin.
The $500 million investment over five years includes $295 million in capital spending and up to $150 million in tax incentives for job-creating companies in the industry. It will require legislative approval.
The proposal continues Baker’s welcome reversal on biotech. In 2015, the administration threatened the future of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center with a proposal — later yanked, under pressure from the industry — that would have merged the agency with two other state bodies to create a larger economic development agency. The Life Sciences Center will now continue to manage the new funds proposed by Baker.
Opposition to the initiative has centered primarily on whether taxpayers were getting sufficient return. Two years ago, the Pioneer Institute — the conservative think tank where Baker used to be executive director — released a report questioning the job-creation capacity of the initiative. Researchers there concluded anywhere between 571 and 3,024 new jobs were added during the first five years of the program.
Other estimates, though, put that figure as high as 11,000. And what’s unquestionable is the state’s standing as a global biotech leader. Preserving that status is vital to the state’s economic future.
With biotech giants like Biogen, Sanofi, and Vertex firmly embedded here, the big hitters in the Massachusetts life sciences industry are more than capable of standing on their own two feet. But the state still has a role to play as an accelerator, signaling support for embryonic aspects of the industry, including research grants and loans for early-stage companies. The funding also helps support tax credits for job creation and other investments in growth. Massachusetts should be a state where companies can start, find talented employees, grow, and prosper.
Workforce training gets more emphasis in Baker’s plan, which should help ensure that biotech’s benefits spread more widely. “This is going to be a lot more about more targeted pursuit of enhancing the workforce here in Massachusetts, working with colleges and universities and other skill-building organizations,” he said Monday. At the same time, the administration is not backing away from brick-and-mortar spending. “We will continue to make smart investments in the expansion or the relocation of companies to Massachusetts as long as we think they work for us.” It’s a wise plan that prepares the state for a bright future.