Biotech development push kicks off in region
Dec. 06--EAST STROUDSBURG -- A regional effort to foster the biosciences sector in Northeast Pennsylvania kicked off Wednesday, boosted by $492,000 of state grant money and big dreams of high-paying jobs.
Leaders in local government and economic development involved in the Northeastern Pennsylvania Regional Biosciences Initiative gathered at the Innovation Center on the campus of East Stroudsburg University for the announcement of the grants and the next steps.
Former Lt. Gov. William Scranton III, who is initiative co-chairman, described the two years of work leading up to the unveiling involving Lackawanna, Luzerne, Pike, Monroe, Wayne, Schuylkill, Susquehanna and Wyoming counties.
"This region represents more than one million people, and we intend to make a name for ourselves in bioscience," Mr. Scranton said.
The strategy will foster the broad and fast-changing biosciences sector, which includes agricultural feeds and chemicals, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, laboratories and other industries that apply biological sciences.
The initiative is the result of a study by Austin, Texas, consulting firm AngelouEconomics released in June 2011 that concluded the region had an opportunity to cultivate the biotech sector. AngelouEconomics set ground rules, recommending the effort be regional, collaborate with higher education and encourage research.
The effort will leverage the region's strengths.
Sanofi-Pasteur, one of the world's largest vaccine manufacturers, operates VaxServe in Scranton and employs more than 2,000 people at its vaccine production facility in Swiftwater, Monroe County. Scranton is home to the Commonwealth Medical College, and the region has a dozen other higher education institutions. Wilkes University has a well-regarded pharmaceutical program. As part of the initiative, the group developed an Intellectual Asset Inventory to show would-be biotech companies resources available through area educational facilities.
Of the grant money, $305,000 is from the "Discovered in PA, Developed in PA" program and $187,000 from the Ben Franklin Technology Development Authority.
"Everyone in the country wants to do this; what makes us think we can succeed?" Mr. Scranton asked.
Unlike the less-than-resounding success of the effort launched in 2000 to attract a more broad technology sector and the fizzled Wall Street West initiative, the push for biotech jobs is better poised to succeed, Mr. Scranton said. Ten years ago, the area had a diversity of industries but lacked a critical mass of any particular industry to build upon.
Since then, the biotechnology sector has grown. Geisinger Health System and Community Health Systems have expanded their role in the medical landscape. The region also has business incubator space for startup bioscience businesses.
"This is not something we are picking out of the air," Mr. Scranton said. "We are going to make this work. This is going to bring jobs all over Northeastern Pennsylvania."
State Sen. John Blake, D-22, Archbald, said the industry in Pennsylvania employs more than 80,000 people with an average annual salary of more than $90,000.
"We are dipping our toe in an industry at a prime moment," he said.
Mr. Blake is hosting a bioscience forum on Jan. 7 at the Commonwealth Medical College.
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