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June 26, 2022

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In Our View: Life sciences industry poised for growth

The Columbian
Published:

Washington long has demonstrated the benefits of innovative companies.

Boeing was founded here and powered an aerospace industry that transformed the world. Microsoft was created in New Mexico but soon moved to the hometown of founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen, going on to alter our daily lives. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos recognized the potential of online retail, landed his company in Seattle and grew it into what is now the world’s second-largest retailer (behind Walmart).

Today, these companies — and others on the cutting edge of technology — employ hundreds of thousands of Washington residents. They rely on an educated and creative workforce, and in turn provide living-wage jobs.

Given that history of forward-thinking manufacturers and retailers, it is not surprising that Washington — and Clark County — is growing into a hub of life sciences innovation. As a recent article in The Columbian detailed, Vancouver biotech companies such as Absci, CytoDyn and Capsigen “are on the leading edge of a global revolution aimed at developing new technologies to produce medicines and tools for gene therapy.”

According to industry organization Life Science Washington, from 2015-19, the industry experienced 23.5 percent job growth in the state. Last year, six companies issued initial public offerings, and the industry raised almost $5 billion in investments.

“Vancouver, Clark County, and Washington broadly have been really supportive of Absci’s growth,” said Sean McClain, the company’s founder and CEO. “There are leaders here who are committed to helping emerging biotech companies develop, grow the workforce, expand the area’s technology footprint, and ultimately improve lives for patients with health care innovations.”

Indeed, the growth of an innovative industry is not an accident, nor is it haphazard. It requires government support in educating an able workforce, developing infrastructure and creating a livable state that is attractive to both employers and employees.

Even the largest companies — think Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon — once were startups with a handful of workers and big dreams.

Clark County — and the entire Portland area — has attempted a landing on the cutting edge before. A vision for creating the “Silicon Forest” drove efforts to attract high-tech corporations in the 1980s and 1990s, and it has seen middling success. Camas transformed itself and its tax base by attracting companies such as Sharp and WaferTech, and Intel is the largest private employer in the metro area with an expansive plant in Hillsboro, Ore.

But the Silicon Forest is suffering from root rot. The United States has fallen behind in semiconductor manufacturing, and companies that are in this country are largely looking to other states. Intel is investing in its Portland-area plant, but company officials recently announced that Ohio will be the site of what could become the world’s largest chip-manufacturing facility.

In life sciences, Boston, San Francisco and San Diego are regarded as the industry hubs. But Bisnow Media recently reported that “biotech and life sciences facilities are popping up more and more in Seattle, Chicago and North Carolina’s Research Triangle.” And CBRE, a commercial real estate company, lists Portland as an emerging biotech hub.

Life sciences is a relatively new industry, but it annually generates an estimated $30 billion in Washington. Local leaders should take notice of the potential for vast growth in the emerging field.

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