Life sciences — building the economic well-being of Marin

NBLC is a member of the North Bay Life Science Alliance

Sometimes what’s going on hides in plain sight.

In the past couple of weeks, several reports have caught our attention both because of what they pointed out and because of what they implied about the economic vitality of Marin County, now and into the future.

Taken together, they celebrate the success of our efforts to attract new businesses and the accomplishments and recognition of those companies regionally and nationally.

A recent study by the prestigious Wall Street firm, the Jeffries Group, said it the most concisely, identifying five companies in the life sciences/bio-medical industry “poised for strong growth.”

Two, BioMarin and Ultragenyx Pharmaceuticals, are headquartered in Marin, with major employee populations in Novato and San Rafael.

The others are in Boston, a Manhattan suburb and Washington D.C.

On one level, the recognition affirms the successful outreach of entities like the Novato City Council, the Marin Economic Forum, the California Life Science Association and the North Bay Life Science Alliance, a multi-county marketing organization.

Other Marin municipal and county governments have played a vital role in attracting a growing roster of companies that also includes Biosearch Technologies, Cytograft Tissue Engineering, Marin Biologic, Raptor and XCell Science.

While the majority are headquartered in Novato, BioMarin has major locations in both Novato and San Rafael.

Employment growth in Marin in the life sciences industry exceeded 350 in Novato alone during 2015. BioMarin also added 300 jobs at its San Rafael headquarters as it builds out its new global headquarters with a total spend of $185 million for the complex and related construction.

The standard measurement impact, the multiplier effect, indicates that the 300 new jobs create an additional 249.

New employment has major positive impact on the local economies, bringing high-paying jobs that attract a highly educated and skilled base of employees who in turn spend locally.

It also further reduces the Marin County unemployment rate, already the state’s lowest.

On another level, just as Napa and Sonoma counties have built national and global reputations based on the wine industry, Marin is in the process of becoming a “center” known for its presence in the bio-medical industry.

Novato-based Buck Institute, as well as our relative proximity to UCSF, combined with the financial deal-making that takes place in San Francisco, all bode well for continued expansion here.

The collaborative efforts of the North Bay Life Science Alliance bring together leaders from Marin, Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties, as well as academicians and scientists from the Buck Institute, Dominican University and Sonoma State University.

To be sure, our impact is part of a regional presence that encompasses Silicon Valley, the East Bay and Marin.

While Marin is one of the smallest counties in the area, with the slowest population growth, we have attracted significant investment, added vital jobs with nearly 200 companies.

In the region, more than 16,000 people are involved in the bio-medical field as both the public and private sector work with the business and real estate community to propel our local economies with smart growth.

The result is an efficient and successful government/private sector process, that while attracting companies to a specific industry also supports business of all sizes and interests. A recent example was the coordination by Novato EDC of training workshops provided by the state to business owners wishing to apply for tax credits from an already-funded program.

In 2014, two Novato businesses (Ultragenyx and XCell) received $2.2 million in state income tax credits because of similar guidance.

With the inauguration of SMART rail service later this year, as well as the modest expansion of airline service from the Santa Rosa Airport, we are confident that Marin will continue to be an attractive location for other companies that either are directly related in bio-medical research or provide the services that they require. Right in front of us and yet mostly out of sight.

By Robert Eyler and Christopher L. Stewart

Robert Eyler is chief economist of the Marin Economic Forum and Christopher L. Stewart is the manager of the city of Novato’s Economic Development Program and chairman of the North Bay Life Science Alliance.

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