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North Bay Business Journal

Monday, June 16, 2014, 7:00 am

North Bay Life Science Alliance takes message on road

Study: ‘Marin County home to more life science companies per capita than any other county in California’

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    NORTH BAY — An ambitious and collaborative effort to lure more life sciences companies to the North Bay will take its message on the road next week, hoping to expand on the success of a growing cluster of pharmaceutical and medical-device companies that bring with them high-paying jobs and an educated workforce.

    North Bay Life Science AllianceThe North Bay Life Science Alliance, which includes top leaders across the biotech industry and economic development officials, will be presented at BIO 2014 in San Diego on June 25. The goal is to present the broader North Bay as a unified region that can accommodate a wide range of life sciences fields, including pharmaceutical research and development in Marin, pharma manufacturing in Solano, medical device manufacturing in Sonoma County and agricultural and animal sciences in Napa, officials said.

    The effort also stems from the clear success of established companies, including orphan drug maker BioMarin Pharmaceutical, from which two other influential companies, Ultragenyx and Raptor Pharmaceutical, were born, along with scores of others in Marin.

    “Marin County is now home to more life science companies per capita than any other county in California,” according to the Alliance’s presentation, drafted by Chris Stewart, chairman and CEO of the alliance and economic development manager for the city of Novato, and Dr. Robert Eyler of the Marin Economic Forum and vice chairman.  

    North Bay Life Science AllianceBut rather than focus exclusively on Marin, which has seen significant growth in the field, the Alliance said it makes more sense to offer a cohesive region that doesn’t compete with itself for the high-paying jobs.

    “We asked ourselves, ‘Is there a way to market the four counties, to market each other, rather than compete with each other?” Dr. Eyler said. “It was better than each county or each city doing it piecemeal and fighting over relatively small initial resources.”

    The effort is backed by an initial investment of $325,000 from the city of Novato and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, which will support a three-year, $1.5 million branding and marketing campaign, led by Emmeryville-based Chempetitive Group.

    If the effort is successful in drawing more of the industry to the North Bay, the regional economy as a whole will directly benefit, officials said.

    “When life sciences flourish, growth comes to a variety of aligned industries,” according the report to be presented in San Diego, itself a significant biotech hub.  Planned expansion at the Buck Institute, for example, is forecast to generate $49 million in revenue while supporting 300 construction jobs. And staffing the facilities would employ another 287 people, bringing an estimated $47 million per year into the region.

    Three hundred jobs created in the life-sciences sector would mean 503 jobs across all industries, according to economic modeling, while the same 300 jobs would mean $142 million in business, totaling $4 million in state and local revenue.

    Marin County has seen impressive growth in the last 14 years — industry growth “has ballooned 240 percent since 2000,” the report said, and now includes more than 200 companies in the county of nearly 260,000. It has more than 1,700 employees earning wages of approximately $248 million as of 2012, according to the study. And Marin County life sciences total revenue in 2013 surpassed $750 million in 2013.

    But what makes the North Bay more attractive than, say, the South Bay, which likewise has supported a thriving biotech industry?

    “We are an alternative for the companies that are being pushed out from the high-tech growth, an alternative to moving to either the Central Valley or out of state,” said Mr. Stewart, referring to companies like Google, Facebook and Apple, among others, that are snapping up huge tracts of the available commercial real estate to support their own rapid growth. “We offer, in addition to a cost-efficient and cost-competitive space, a very high quality of life. “

    Dr. Eyler said biotech and pharma companies tend to be smaller than their high-tech giant neighbors in the South Bay, and are therefore easier to relocate.

    Generally speaking, “tech and software businesses are much more likely to be in the city, and the urban areas allow that to happen relatively easily,” Dr. Eyler said. “In a more suburban and rural model like the North Bay, we have to think more strategically and if (life sciences companies) are competing with (large tech companies), having open arms and being ready for that movement is a good strategic movement.”

    In addition, the region does not tax gross receipts, according to the Alliance, “which allows young companies to accept non-profit grants and enter research collaborations without incurring financial penalties.”

    While Marin might be limited in its commercial real estate offerings, Sonoma and Solano counties are not, and the Buck Institute in Novato is in the process of adding 65,000 square-feet of lab and office space. The Buck currently houses six tenants and is seeking more. Sonoma County has had a traditionally strong presence in medical device makers, the most notable example being Medtronic, which employs some 840 people at its Santa Rosa campus.

    Likewise, Solano County has the infrastructure to support both research and manufacturing, being home to Genentech’s 956,000 square-foot plant that, upon a $135 million expansion, will employ more than 900 technicians, scientists and engineers.

    With both Napa and Solano counties being within proximity to University of California, Davis, along with Napa County’s wine industry, Mr. Stewart said there is additional opportunity to explore life sciences related to genetic agriculture and animal sciences.

    “We define it broadly to be more inclusive,” he said. “We’ve found that more and more, there is collaboration between different disciplines in the science industries.”

    Members of the Alliance include: public and private representatives from all four counties and the cities of Novato, Petaluma and San Rafael; economic development agencies including the Marin Economic Forum, Sonoma County BEST, the Solano Economic Development Corporation and Novato Economic Development Commission; The Buck Institute; higher education institutions including UC Davis, Sonoma State University and College of Marin; BayBio; the U.S. Department of Commerce; the North Bay Leadership Council; Utlragenyx; and Mark Wood Consulting.

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