West Bridgewater hopes to be part of biotech boom
West Bridgewater officials consider easing permitting requirements to lure firms to town
The cure for cancer, AIDS or multiple sclerosis might be discovered in this small town, local officials say, if they can bring in biotech businesses.
Selectmen are enlisting the help of the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, a trade association based in Cambridge, to help market West Bridgewater as a place for the state’s 400 biotech companies to do business, a move that would lure good-paying jobs and commercial tax revenue to town.
To make West Bridgewater more appealing, the town is also considering relaxing permitting requirements for biotech companies to come to Manley Street, the town’s commercial and industrial corridor, said Selectman Matthew Albanese, who was appointed as the town’s liaison to the council’s Massachusetts BioReady Communities campaign.
“The idea is to get West Bridgewater on the map in terms of hosting biotech companies,” Albanese said.
Massachusetts is a hub for biotech companies, said Peter J. Abair, economic development director for the biotech council.
Biotech companies generate $5 billion in payroll taxes and $6 billion in exports, a quarter of the Bay State’s exports.There are 1,827 drugs being developed in Massachusetts, more than 7 percent of the global drug pipeline.There were 44,005 Massachusetts biotech jobs in 2006, 30.4 percent more than in 2002. The average salary for biotech workers is more than $100,000.“It’s an industry that’s running counter to the Massachusetts economy, which shed jobs in the first part of the decade, and our industry grew jobs,” Abair said.
To make Massachusetts a biotech leader, Gov. Deval Patrick in July signed a $1 billion life sciences research bill that provides $500 million for new research facilities and labs, $250 million for research grants and $250 million in tax credits for companies in the life sciences industry. Supporters said the measure would create 250,000 jobs.
The Mass BioReady Communities campaign is working with communities interested in hosting biotech companies and rating them based on how well they would support the industry, using a four-point system of bronze, silver, gold and platinum.
For instance, a bronze community offers municipal water and sewer and zoning for biotech by special permit. A platinum community offers buildings permitted for biotech with 20,000 or more square feet, Abair said.
About 40 communities, including West Bridgewater and Weymouth, are seeking ratings, which should be released by March.
Albanese said West Bridgewater, which offers municipal water and zoning for biotech by special permit and has hosted biotech companies in the past, is aiming for a bronze or silver rating.
He said there are buildings in town now where a biotech company could relocate. For instance, Pressure BioSciences Inc., which makes specialized instruments for use in the health care industry, once did business at 321 Manley St., but relocated last March to Easton.
As state aid and tax revenues continue to decline, Albanese said West Bridgewater will face increasing competition from other Massachusetts communities courting biotech.
“It’s going to be Walpole versus West Bridgewater, or Waltham versus West Bridgewater,” he said.