eorgia has a rich mix of pharmaceutical, biotechnology, medical device and diagnostics companies, ranging from established multinational firms to fledgling university spinouts. Although healthcare applications of life sciences technologies dominate, companies involved in agricultural biotechnology — particularly animal health — and biofuels are a growing part of the state's economy.
A report by the University of Georgia's Selig Center for Economic Growth and Georgia Bio — "Shaping Infinity, The Georgia Life Sciences Industry Analysis" — showed the state's life sciences industry and university research generate an annual economic impact of US$17.3 billion and employ more than 62,000 people.
That means one in every 68 jobs in Georgia is related to life sciences, and these salaries, at an average of $64,000, are more than 50 percent higher than the average of all other industry sectors. The average is even greater for pharmaceutical manufacturing ($90,000), surgical and medical equipment manufacturing ($71,000) and emerging biotech research and development ($70,000).
These data do not include the 6,500 employees of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (the largest life sciences employer in Georgia) or other related research operations associated with the federal government, such as U.S. Departments of Defense and Agriculture.
The Selig Center stated in its most recent Georgia Economic Outlook, "The life sciences industries have proven to be an important driver of Georgia's economy, that translates into jobs, higher incomes, greater production of goods and services, and higher revenue collections for state and local governments."
Overall, however, Georgia's companies are relatively young, compared with the industry nationwide. A majority have 50 or fewer employees and were founded within the past decade. This means many companies are fragile, faced with long and expensive product development timelines, subject to strict government regulation and requiring continuous funding to bring new treatments and therapies to patients. These companies are sensitive to economic turmoil, such as the downturn of the past three years that led to severe risk aversion among institutional and individual investors.
Under these conditions, state government incentives are even more critical to the long-term economic equation for keeping these jobs in Georgia and recruiting more to the state. In "Shaping Infinity," the Selig Center reported that "although the cost of living, quality of life, availability of suitable space and facilities, and the proximity to academic institutions received high marks from industry executives, they felt that access to capital, infrastructure (transportation, water, energy), and availability of specialized managers were obstacles that may limit the future growth of the life sciences industry in the state."
Gov. Nathan Deal made life sciences economic development part of his campaign platform, and as he launched his administration this year he continued that support by including biosciences among the priority sectors targeted by his proposed Competitiveness Council. This competitiveness initiative will bring together the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, the Georgia Department of Economic Development and business and government leaders from throughout the state to develop an economic strategy focused on long-term growth and job creation.
Gov. Deal is building on a program initiated by his predecessor, Gov. Sonny Perdue, in which strategic industries were identified by the Commission for a New Georgia as essential to the economic growth of the state. Life sciences, including healthcare, agriculture and bioenergy, are among the sectors. A major achievement was development of targeted Centers of Innovation, identification of regions within the state dominated by the strategic industries, and allocation of funds to strengthen the work force.
For life sciences, the predominant region is the Innovation Crescent, stretching from Atlanta to Athens, and then expanded west to include Cobb County and east to Augusta. This part of the state is home to more than 85 percent of the life sciences industry and includes the state's major world-class research universities. The region is supported by a coalition of industry, government and academia, which, in association with the Governor's Office of Workforce Development, has created programs to ensure Georgia has the skilled talent to support industry growth.
A centerpiece of the effort is the Georgia Work Ready program, which gives workers — new to the job market and in transition — an opportunity to prove their work readiness to employers. It also provides companies an efficient means of selecting successful job candidates. The backbone of the initiative is the Work Ready Certificate, which assesses the real world skills of Georgia's workers.
Another essential element is the Innovation Crescent Regional Partnership (ICRP), which includes local governments, economic development authorities and chambers of commerce. The ICRP is accelerating the growth of the region through focused education and economic development activities and by supporting development of existing life science companies, organizations and institutions. The goal is to make it easy for companies to do business in Georgia, whether they're searching for a new site, planning a branch expansion or seeking assistance for a start-up.
Georgia, like most states, faces budgetary challenges and is in the midst of a re-examination of its tax code. The state has many positive tax incentives, from sales tax exemptions on business and manufacturing inputs to tax credits for job growth and research and development. These tax incentives helped attract one of the state's newest biotechnology companies, Dendreon, which has built a $70-million facility in Union City (just south of Atlanta) employing hundreds of professionals to produce a new, first-of-a-kind therapy for prostate cancer.
Georgia Bio, the private non-profit organization representing the life sciences industry, has urged state officials to preserve existing incentives that create job growth and consider new ones that address the unique funding and development challenges facing bioscience companies. These incentives are essential for the Georgia Department of Economic Development to compete with other states in recruiting bioscience companies to Georgia and in retaining the existing industry.
Georgia Bio also has strongly encouraged the state to increase funding for the Georgia Research Alliance (GRA) and Georgia Cancer Coalition (GCC), which invest in the state's major universities to strengthen their innovative research programs. GRA and GCC have been instrumental in helping Emory University, Georgia Health Sciences University, Georgia Institute of Technology, Georgia State University, Morehouse School of Medicine and University of Georgia become global leaders in research and innovation. The technological discoveries made in their laboratories are a fundamental part of industry growth. As the Selig Center reported in "Shaping Infinity," more than 50 percent of Georgia bioscience companies consider proximity to these academic institutions vital to their operations.