Michelle Nemits, senior director of business development for the life sciences trade association Biocom, opened with an overview of the industry in the Bay Area and the East Bay. She noted that industry started with Genentech in South San Francisco and then the East Bay hub of Berkeley-Emeryville developed. Notably, the Tri-Valley also is growing rapidly as a life sciences region.
She cited the three national labs in Alameda County plus the educated workforce where 41 percent of adults hold a bachelor’s degree or better. The education level, particularly advanced degrees, is significantly higher in the Tri-Valley with 55 percent holding college degrees and about one-third with advanced degrees.
Nemits said there are 96,000 life science jobs in the Bay Area with 28,000 in the East Bay. And, the industry pays quite well with an average wage of $156,000. There’s also a range of jobs ranging from scientists with advanced degrees to technical positions that require training, but no college degree.
During the panel discussion that followed, Chantel Mandel, director of Pharmaceutical R&D Communications for Bayer Corp., pointed out the importance of their relationship with the city of Berkeley. She said that 25 years ago, with no more than educated guesses as to where the industry would go, company and city officials put together a detailed development agreement that has allowed the firm to expand facilities consistently over the years.
Dr. Mary Maxon, associate laboratory director for biosciences at Lawrence Berkeley Lab, said one of the great areas for growth is biological manufacturing. She said that scientists can grow products to replace plastics and other products that currently are made from oil. She also said that a big opportunity to find other ways to use carbon and other waste products. She envisioned small BioFoundries located across the country to create energy where waste products are nearby.
When asked about the challenges facing the industry, Ronald Hutton, the one non-scientist on the panel (treasurer of Bio-Rad Laboratories) cited maintaining the area’s quality of life with more affordable housing, quality education and a business-friendly environment.
Panel moderator, Rich Robbins, founder and president of Wareham Development, strongly emphasized organizations such as the East Bay EDA getting more engaged in education, particularly at the elementary level in disadvantaged communities. He rightly pointed out that if a student is behind in reading and math by the end of the 3rd grade, the chances of catching up are slight (without targeted and expensive intervention).