Access to talent, strong academic institutions, and public-private partnerships are behind the Oregon bioscience sector’s continuing rise.
A study commissioned by the Oregon Bioscience Association shows Oregon’s bioscience sector is in full bloom, producing an historic $15.6 billion in output, 66,000 jobs statewide as well as $1.7 billion in local, state, and federal taxes and fees in 2020. The number of bioscience employees in Oregon has doubled since 2002. Wages increased 215% over the same period.
The new study, titled “Oregon’s Bio Boom: 2022 Economic Impact Report” shows Oregon’s biotechnology and life science sector is wealthier and more productive than at any previous point in the last 20 years.
Liisa Bozinovic, executive director of the Oregon Bioscience Association, says the state’s strong academic institutions, talent pool, and robust support for the industry through incubator and accelerator organizations like OTRADI/OBI and Onward Eugene, which announced a partnership with OBA last year, are the main drivers behind the sector’s continued growth and investments.
From left to right: Steve Thompson – Global Trade Specialist, Business Oregon, Angela Bitting - SVP Corporate Affairs and Chief ESG Officer, Twist Bioscience, Liisa Bozinovic – Executive Director, Oregon Bioscience Association at the Oregon pavilion at the BIO International Convention.
With the arrival of outside bioscience companies like Genentech and Twist Bioscience, as well as internal research hubs like the Knight Cancer Institute at OHSU, Bozinovic says the sector has been poised for this kind of growth for several years.
“We have started to get a critical mass of talent in the region, and it makes it more attractive for companies to relocate here,” says Bozinovic, who uses Twist Bioscience’s 2020 arrival in Wilsonville as an example of how the region’s talent base has made it attractive to bioscience companies.
“Twist Bioscience did their due diligence when they were thinking about where they were going to put their second site. They looked at the talent pool in the region and got very comfortable with the fact that they could hire and train what they needed. They're very active now in reaching out to community colleges and universities to make sure that pipeline is in line with their needs.”
In addition to state universities, Oregon’s robust array of community colleges give the bioscience sector greater access to talent. According to a 2020 report form the Urban Institute, community colleges tend to have greater minority representation than more expensive higher-learning institutions.
The OBA study found 75% of the workers in life science research were women and 45% of the total bioscience industry workforce identified as female, while ethnic minorities comprised nearly 22% of the bioscience workforce.
“Portland Community College has a biotech program and has been very responsive to industry needs as far as training talent,” says Bozinovic. “The bioscience sector has been known to have four-year degree requirements so sometimes it's tricky for the community colleges. But now companies are specifically looking at community colleges because that's an area where you can find a more diverse talent pool.”
Like the silicon forest — the nickname for the Portland-area tech sector — Oregon’s bioscience sector supports the manufacturing, trade, and service sectors, among others. The report estimates that every 10 jobs in the bioscience industry support an additional 21 jobs in other sectors of Oregon’s economy. Every $1 million in income generated in the bioscience industry was linked to another $1.2 million in income for workers and business owners in other industries in Oregon.
Alec Josephson, economist with Pinnacle Economics, who conducted the study as well as six other Oregon bioscience sector studies since 2002, said in a press release that the results show the sector “becoming a pivotal industry in Oregon’s economy.”
Despite the record-setting 2020 numbers, Bozinovic says the sector still has plenty of room for growth. Part of that growth means becoming more visible to the national and international bioscience community.
Last week, 18 organizations, including bioscience companies, universities, and economic development entities joined Oregon Bioscience and Business Oregon at the BIO International Convention in San Diego. It was the first time Oregon had a booth at the convention in ten years.
According to Bozinovic, it will be one of many Oregon appearances.
“The money and infrastructure definitely build on themselves,” she says. “More researchers and more NIH funding eventually translates into spinouts and licensing opportunities, as well as companies able to grow organically in the region."
“We are certainly not seeing the full results of all this investment but we're definitely seeing the early stages. Wherever there are major universities you see lot of more activity and industry growth because of the associated talent and the research pools.”
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