Supporters of Higher H1-B Visa Cap Mull New Bill After Immigration Defeat
Supporters of raising the number of individuals eligible for H1-B visas during a US fiscal year are pondering their next move following the defeat of the immigration reform bill in the US Senate last month, BioRegion News has learned.
That next move, one supporter, could be resubmitting one of the ill-fated bill’s less controversial provisions as its own new legislation — an increase in the H1-B visa cap for biotech and other high-tech professionals, one supporter said last week in an interview.
“We’re going to take the next few weeks to see what’s doable between now and the end of the year, both in terms of the substance and then how we get it done — do we move it as part of another bill that’s moving forward? Do we try to get it on a spending bill? There are the questions that we’re contemplating right now,” said Robert Hoffman, vice chair of Compete America, a coalition of businesses, research institutions, and trade groups that has sought to raise the number of foreign-born workers allowed in the US.
“We’re taking a step back and taking a look at what we think is doable between now and the end of the year, and going to our supporters and key members whose support we will need,” Hoffman added.
Among those supporters, he said, were Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose, Calif.) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who chair immigration subcommittees in their respective chambers; as well as House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers (D-Detroit) and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).
They were among representatives and senators who tried to push through the immigration bill, only to succumb to fierce opposition from opponents in Congress and their constituents. They objected to provisions allowing eventual citizenship for the nation’s estimated 12 million illegal immigrants — an unwarranted amnesty, they argued.
All but lost in the opposition was the H1-B reform. Two senators, Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and John Cornyn (D-Tex.) offered an amendment to expand the cap to 140,000 workers; the original bill called for raising the cap to 115,000 from the current 60,000.
More importantly for biotech and high-tech, Hoffman said, Cantwell offered another amendment that would have doubled, to 40,000, the number of visas set aside for professionals with masters and PhD degrees from US colleges and universities. Congress set the current 20,000 limit on such visas in 2004. Cantwell also sought to set aside another 20,000 visas for masters and PhD graduates in technical fields like science, math and engineering from overseas universities.
“Her amendment was a small part of a larger casualty when it came to immigration reform. Our frustration was the fact we never really got the chance to have a discussion and a vote on the H1-B program,” Hoffman said.
$100M Fund Divides Mass. Legislative Leaders: Biotech or Broader Economic Use?
The new $26.8 billion budget adopted by Massachusetts on July 12 includes a $100 million economic development fund that could be used in part to fund biotech programs — if the state finishes the fiscal year that ended June 30 with at least a $150 million surplus, and if legislative leaders can work out a disagreement over how the money should be spent.
A conference committee of lawmakers from the state House of Representatives and state Senate agreed to create the $100 million Bay State Competitiveness Investment Fund earlier this month as they hammered out the spending plan for the fiscal year that started July 1.
The fund represented a compromise by state Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) and House of Representatives Speaker Salvatore DiMasi (D-Suffolk). Murray and the Senate had proposed a “Job Growth Initiative” plan dedicating $75 million to four funds, one of which would have subsidized life sciences programs. DiMasi and the House were opposed, arguing the state should instead fund a broader mix of economic priorities.
“They agreed to disagree and put the money into a fund, and then figure out how to spend it some other day, essentially,” Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation, said July 12 in an interview. The foundation is a Boston-based state spending and tax policy research group.
A legislative aide who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss details of the budget talks confirmed Widmer’s account. Spokesmen for DiMasi and Murray were unavailable at deadline.
Murray and DiMasi stood next to Gov. Deval Patrick as he proposed his 10-year, $1 billion Life Science Initiative May 8 from the floor of the 2007 BIO International Convention in Boston. A day later, The Boston Globe published “The Promise of Biotech,” a pro-initiative op-ed column that carried the bylines of Patrick and Murray, but not DiMasi. It was an example, Widmer said, of how Murray has positioned herself as a stauncher supporter of the governor’s biotech plan.
“I think his feeling, and I think there’s an argument for this as well, is that our economic development initiatives need to be broader than simply biotech. He’s not saying no to biotech,” Widmer said.
Before signing the budget, Patrick vetoed $41.4 million in spending approved by the state legislature — including $250,000 for the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a state agency that oversees the Massachusetts Life Sciences Collaborative, which promotes collaboration between biotech businesses, research institutions and state government. The legislature proposed a $250,000 subsidy as a compromise between the $500,000 subsidy last fiscal year and Patrick’s initial budget, which eliminated state funding for the agency.
Emily Dahl, an MTC spokeswoman, said the collaborative would use part of its reserves to cover the money it won’t receive from the state: “It’s perfectly fine with us. We understand that the governor had a really tight budget to deal with, and lots of difficult decisions.”
US Develops Short List for Planned National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility
The US Department of Homeland Security has narrowed to five its list of potential sites for its proposed $450 million National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, intended to research foreign animal diseases and diseases that affects both animals and humans:
- Flora Industrial Park, Madison County, Miss.
- Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kan.
- Texas Research Park, San Antonio, Texas
- Umstead Research Farm, Granville County, NC
- University of Georgia/South Milledge Ave., Athens, Ga.
The homeland security department will conduct formal environmental impact statements of each potential site as required under the US National Environmental Policy Act. The reports will be used to determine the suitability of each potential site, with the selection of a final site set for early in the federal fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2009. The new facility will replace the aging Plum Island (NY) Animal Disease Center, which the department says is nearing the end of its life and too small to meet the nation’s research needs.
Sanofi-Aventis Completes New $150M Vaccine Plant, Eyes 2008 Opening
Sanofi-Aventis said July 10 it has completed construction of a $150 million flu vaccine plant within its Swiftwater, Pa., campus, and expects the plant to begin operations late next year.
The new 140,000-square-foot plant will open after it receives approval it is now pursuing from the US Food and Drug Administration. The plant will employ 200 people — 100 now based at S-A’s current flu vaccine plant and another 100 new employees to be hired before the plant opens.
The new plant will allow S-A to double its flu vaccine production to 100 million doses per year, and expand its Swiftwater work force, now at 2,150 employees.
S-A executives, led by chairman and CEO David Williams, on July 10 joined Pennsylvania officials led by Dennis Yablonsky, secretary of community and economic development under Gov. Edward Rendell, to announce the plant’s completion and trumpet the state’s role in funding the plant.
In 2005 the state-created Commonwealth Financing Authority approved a $5 million PennWorks grant enabling Pocono Township to improve its sewer system along the Route 611 corridor to the serve the Swiftwater campus. PennWorks was created the previous year to finance public water and wastewater infrastructure improvements tied to economic development projects.
The US Department of Health and Human Services will spend $77.4 million on the renovation of the existing plant, with S-A kicking in $25 million. HHS agreed to cover “costs for design, retrofit and the maintenance of the facilities at a state of readiness so the company can switch to pandemic influenza vaccine manufacture at the HHS' request,” S-A announced June 14.
Florida Life Science Businesses Eligible for Governor’s Business Diversification Awards
Florida businesses in the life sciences and other high-tech industries have until 5 p.m. on Aug. 3 to enter the 2007 Governor’s Business Diversification Awards competition. The program spotlights companies that have contributed significantly to Florida’s economic diversification efforts.
Nominations can be made by local and regional economic development organizations and professional or industry associations. Self-nominations also are acceptable. Nomination forms can be obtained at www.eflorida.com/govawards or by contacting Liefke Cox at (407) 956-5688 or [email protected]; or Adam Tindall at (407) 956-5697 or [email protected].
Three awards will be given in each of the following categories:
- Governor’s Business Expansion Award– for a company that expanded its Florida operations in 2006, investing capital and creating jobs for Floridians
- Governor’s Newcomer Award– for a new-to-Florida company that began operating in the state in 2006
- Governor’s Export Excellence Award– for a Florida company with a significant increase in documented export sales in 2006
- Governor’s Entrepreneurship Award– for a company less than five years old that sets the standard for entrepreneurship and creativity
- Governor’s Innovation Award– for a company, organization or institution that, through product or process, best exemplifies innovative leadership.
Winners will be announced in September and receive their awards during Florida’s Industry Appreciation Week Sept. 17-21
MichBio Announces Its 2007 Expo; Bio CEO to be Keynote Speaker
MichBio, Michigan's trade association for the life sciences industry, announced it will host the MichBio Expo Oct. 16-17 at the Lansing Center. The two-day event will feature James Greenwood, president and CEO of the Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO), as opening keynote speaker.
The first day will feature tours of local life sciences companies, a networking reception, and a Career Day conducted with Michigan State University to introduce top high school senior science students and their teachers to opportunities in the life sciences. The second will feature sessions on pharmaceutical, medical devices, and other industry topics, exclusive business development meetings between emerging technology companies and life science business leaders; and an exhibit hall with displays from a diverse group of life science companies and service providers.
Sponsors include: Pfizer; the Michigan Economic Development Corporation; Dykema; Michigan State University; Harness Dickey; Varnum, Riddering, Schmidt and Howlett; PhRMA and Asterand.
Teleflex Medical to Establish European HQ in Ireland; 150 Jobs Planned
US-based Teleflex Medical will establish a European headquarters at Industrial Development Agency Ireland’s Business & Technology Park in Athlone, County Westmeath, the agency announced July 11.
Over the next five years, Teleflex Medical will create 150 jobs in specialties such as multilingual customer service, finance, HR, IT, planning and administration. The new European headquarters will be Teleflex’s second facility in Ireland. The company employs 135 people in Limerick, where it manufactures plastic tubing, braided tubing and medical product components for the medical, surgical and OEM markets.
“The availability of highly educated graduates with strong language skills, proximity to the Athlone Institute of Technology, Ireland’s existing base of premises were some of the reasons why we chose Athlone,” Teleflex Medical President Ernest Waaser said in an IDA statement announcing the move.
The arrival of Teleflex followed setbacks for two employers with operations in Athlone in recent months. Conor Medsystems in May announced it would shut down its plant, idling 165 workers three months after the completion of a merger with Johnson & Johnson. And earlier this month, ICT Eurotel placed on extended unpaid leave about 60 workers at a customer call center.
Teleflex Medical is a global medical technology company providing medical devices used in respiratory care, anaesthesia, urology and a range of surgical procedures. The company posted revenues of $859 million in 2006, has operations in 18 countries and employs more than 7,000 people worldwide. Teleflex Medical is a division of Teleflex Inc., a $2.5 billion-a-year company headquartered in Limerick, Pa.
Young Research Triangle Park Firm Gets $142,716 for Preclinical Work
Jenken Biosciences, a developer of pharmaceutical products based at Research Triangle Park, will receive a $142,716 low-interest loan approved for the company by the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.
Jenken will receive a Small Business Research loan toward preclinical studies on JKB-121, designed to limit the exaggerated inflammatory responses associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and steatohepatitis. SRL funds may be applied to the direct costs associated with research that advances biotechnology toward commercialization. Biotechnology center loans carry an interest rate of 1 percentage point over prime.
The firm develops approved, off-patent drugs for new applications - a process called "repurposing." The company's initial focus is on the treatment of diseases of the liver, kidney and lungs associated with chronic organ inflammation.