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Mass. Officials Gearing Up for Road Show To Gain Support for $1B Biotech Initiative

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Three months after formally presenting his $1 billion biotech subsidy bill to state lawmakers, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick is still trying to drum up support for his Life Sciences Initiative beyond the industry, while legislative leaders have signaled that they aren’t inclined to move quickly on the bill.
 
Patrick’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development is organizing a series of events at life sciences businesses and research institutions set to commence later this month. The events are designed to build public support and awareness for the bill among lawmakers, and shore up support gained earlier from many of the life-science leaders who would benefit from it.
 
Under Patrick’s legislation — House Bill 4235 — Massachusetts would set aside $100 million per year over 10 years on economic incentives to attract and retain biotech companies, subsidize research, and train future professionals. The bill has been referred to the Joint Committee on Economic Development, co-chaired by state Rep. Daniel Bosley (D-North Adams) and state Sen. Jack Hart (D-South Boston). 
 
All of the planned road show events will feature appearances by the state’s secretary of housing and economic development, Daniel O’Connell. For at least one of the events, he will be joined by Patrick.
 
“We’re still in the planning process for the tour, and all of the details have not been confirmed at this point,” Kofi Jones, a spokeswoman for the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, told BioRegion News.
 
Jones would not disclose which companies or institutions have agreed to participate, but added that the events will be public.
 
“The goal is to garner support for the life science legislation and to emphasize the life science strengths that exist throughout this state, through the successes of the companies where we will host these events. The goal is also to get the continued input from these companies,” Jones said. “We also hope to hear from the legislators and from the companies about what they feel are the critical parts of this legislation, how it will impact their companies and their companies’ growth. We hope to create events that will enable us to hear from all of those involved and all of those impacted by the legislation.”
 
The legislation — which carries the formal title “An Act Providing for the Investment In and Expansion of the Life Sciences Industry in the Commonwealth” — would have the state spend $500 million on public education and other facilities, and life sciences equipment; $250 million on fellowships, research grants, and workforce training programs; and $250 million on tax subsidies targeted to job creation. The state expects private colleges, institutions, and companies to chip in a total of $250 million for capital, fellowships, research grants, and workforce training.
 
“It is meant to build on our existing strengths and position us for global leadership,” Jones said — though industry leaders in Massachusetts have said the bill is needed to surmount growing challenges to the state’s biotech industry, such as growing competition from other states and inconsistencies between communities in local permitting.
 
Jones said the life sciences bill is one of several efforts by the state to show support for the industry.
 
Two others are unfolding. The University of Massachusetts’ Donahue Institute is carrying out a $250,000 Life Sciences Talent Initiative, designed to determine how many workers the industry will need statewide over the next eight years. The study will prepare economic and occupational forecasts for the state’s life-science industry after examining federal and state labor data.
 
Lynn Griesemer, associate vice president for economic development and executive director of the UMass Donahue Institute, told BioRegion News the study’s first phase of results will come out at the end of this month.
 
Additional data will be released in late January or early February 2008, with the final report and recommendations set to be released in June 2008. “That will, we hope, include some description of program responses to the recommendations,” said Griesemer, who is also an adjunct professor in the public administration program at UMass Amherst.
 
UMass would be among the beneficiaries of Patrick’s plan since it includes funding for two facilities eyed for the university’s Worcester campus — $66 million for a stem cell-research facility, including a stem-cell bank; and $38 million for an RNAi research center intended to build on the work of one of its professors, Nobel laureate Craig Mello.
 
Of the talent study cost, $50,000 has been funded by the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, while the remainder comes from the state’s $10 million Life Sciences Center fund, created in 2006 by Patrick’s predecessor, Mitt Romney, and state lawmakers to boost the biotech industry in Massachusetts.
 
The other initiative involving the center is its national search in progress for its second executive director. A search committee expects to appoint that person some time next year, Jones said. The center’s first director, Romney appointee Aaron D’Elia, resigned under pressure last June, six months into a one-year, $125,000 contract. D’Elia’s hiring drew fire from the industry because of his lack of biotech industry experience and fears that he would follow Romney’s policy of restricting stem-cell research, a view D’Elia denied sharing.
 
Most of the life science center’s money is intended to fund collaborations by researchers working with industry partners, under a grant program whose deadline was last August. Jones said the program proceeded in spite of the leadership flux, and the life science center has begun funding the collaborations — but could not at deadline say how much of the money has been distributed to researchers.
 
Speaker’s Pointed Criticism
 
The state disclosed plans for its biotech bill road show less than a week after one of the state’s legislative leaders raised questions about singling out the life sciences industry for its own subsidy program.
 
Addressing the state’s largest business group on Sept. 28, state House of Representatives Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, a Democrat representing Boston’s North End, said the state should consider increasing its subsidies to the biotech industry only if it does likewise for the financial services, medical devices, and manufacturing industries.
 
All those industries, DiMasi said, reflect better priorities for state spending than a casino proposal advanced in recent weeks by Patrick. The governor wants Massachusetts to open three casinos across the state, arguing his plan would generate $450 million in state revenue — a plan opposed by DiMasi.
 
“We need jobs, good jobs, dependable jobs, jobs in the industries that we know,” DiMasi said Sept. 28, addressing the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, according to numerous published reports. DiMasi’s office did not return telephone calls from BioRegion News seeking the text of his address.
 
Two days earlier, during a joint appearance with Patrick at a school in Lynn, Mass., DiMasi promised lawmakers would examine Patrick’s casino plan very closely, from revenue forecasts to how the state would address addiction and other social problems linked to gambling.
 
One industry cited by DiMasi — financial services — has been the subject of discussion among business and economic development professionals. In March, the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce and the public policy group Mass Insight Corporation recommended a new public-private effort led by the state’s existing financial institutions to promote the industry, with involvement by state and local governments and universities.
 
The two groups issued a report, “Securing Massachusetts’ Leadership Position in Financial Services,” that recommended creating new financial services programs in community and four-year colleges; establishing a new financial services-specific research center, with employment and internship programs; speeding up local land-use reviews for new projects as the state and several communities have done with biotech facilities; and easing the state’s tax and regulatory burdens.
 
The state’s financial services sector accounted for 180,000 jobs and generated $38.5 billion in goods and services in 2005, the report concluded. At the annual conference of the Massachusetts Alliance for Economic Development in June, state Rep. Tom Conroy (D-Wayland) said the Bay State’s financial services industry lost jobs and activity during this decade to the New York metro area, from Wall Street north to the hedge fund mecca of Greenwich, Conn.
 
DiMasi’s opposition to Patrick on casinos is just one area where the two politicos have clashed on issues in recent months. Some other examples:
  • Convention Center: DiMasi in July publicly called for Patrick to rescind a $10 million grant for the $800 million, 1.3 million-square-foot Columbus Center retail-residential complex in Boston, arguing the money came from a fund designed to stimulate creation of new manufacturing jobs: “We did not set the money aside to help a private developer build million-dollar condos,” wrote DiMasi and two Democratic state Reps. from Boston, Byron Rushing and Marty Walzin a July 18 letter to Patrick.
  • Lottery: DiMasi embarrassed Patrick in his Sept. 28 address by publicly demanding that state treasurer Timothy Cahill explain why the state lottery generated less in revenue than projected. DiMasi said the shortfall was $120 million; Cahill, $59 million.
Despite the disagreements, Patrick’s administration has refused to take DiMasi on publicly or aim any broadsides at the speaker.
 

“The goal is to garner support for the life science legislation and to emphasize the life science strengths that exist throughout this state, through the successes of the companies where we will host these events. The goal is also to get the continued input from these companies.”

“We definitely value what we’ve gotten, especially from speaker DiMasi and chairmen Hart and Bosley,” Jones said. “We appreciate their input as to their concerns to ensure that all industries and all sectors are supported in the commonwealth. But we can’t ignore that the life science sector is one that we must focus on. We cannot lose ground. We cannot rest on our laurels. We in fact have the opportunity to create jobs, to create cures and to maximize our economic growth in this sector.”

 
The life sciences bill followed the release of three reports by business and industry groups that spotlighted several of Massachusetts’ problems in trying to grow its biotech and pharmaceutical industries: A rising cost of living, and especially housing; fewer math and science students produced by the state’s K-12 schools; worsening traffic; slow bureaucracies; and sluggish job growth.
 
Between 2001 and 2005, employment growth in the state’s biotech sector lagged behind the national average, according to one report, “,” issued by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the New England Healthcare Institute, and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a state agency that promotes the development of tech-based industries.
 
Jones contended the biotech bill would generate new jobs well beyond the life sciences: Law firms hiring new intellectual property lawyers, for example.
 
A longtime observer of state government said he still foresees Patrick, DiMasi, and state Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) ultimately hashing out a modified version of the Life Sciences Initiative.
 
“I think they can come to an agreement. There has been unanimity among the three in their commitment to supporting life sciences. I think they will reach an agreement,” said Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayer Foundation. “They want to make sure that anything they do for life sciences, that they look at it in the context of other industries that are important to the state’s economy.
 
Widmer acknowledged that progress on the biotech bill and other issues has been slowed down by the DiMasi-Patrick casino dispute: “That debate will consume a considerable amount of time and focus. It has already had the effect of slowing down other matters.”
 
Patrick announced the biotech bill May 8 in an address from the Massachusetts pavilion during the 2007 BIO International Convention, held at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center. Patrick and O’Connell’s office hammered out the bill after three months of close consultations with industry leaders and their trade group, the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council.
 
While it praised the resulting legislation at the time, the biotech council has all but dropped out of public sight in the weeks since its new president, Robert Coughlin, became the target of an ethics complaint from the state Republican party. The GOP alleges that Coughlin began pursuing the council presidency at a June event, six weeks before recusing himself from state policy discussions on the life sciences bill and other biotech matters, and informing Patrick and other state officials he was a candidate for the position.
 
In its first public remarks on the issue last month, the biotech council defended Coughlin’s actions, telling BioRegion News the June event was a networking event, and that Coughlin was not a formal candidate for the position until the following month.
 
Two spokesmen for the biotech council did not return messages from BRN last week seeking comment on either the economic development events or the latest development in the Coughlin imbroglio.
 

On Oct. 3, the Boston Globe reported that the state Ethics Commission had launched a formal inquiry into Coughlin’s pursuit of the biotech council, citing unnamed “sources with knowledge of the investigation.” The commission has refused comment, citing its policy of not commenting on investigations.

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