hen Silicon Valley-based Agilent Technologies was considering locations to expand its manufacturing of therapeutic nucleic acids, the company’s final decision boiled down to a choice between the facility it launched in 2016 in Frederick, Colorado, and a site in the eminent biotechnology cluster at North Carolina’s Research Triangle. That the company chose Colorado was not just a coup for the Denver-Boulder region’s play as a biotech and life sciences hub, but another potential sign of things to come. Colorado’s biosciences scene is “exploding,” in the words of several people closely engaged in it.
“We’re trying to figure out exactly what caused this phenomenon because it happened all at once,” over just a few years, says Don Meisner, senior vice president in the Denver office of JLL, the commercial real estate services company. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Meisner says, life sciences companies were among those that began to seek locations in “secondary” markets, especially in places where they could recruit talent.
“With the substantial education base we have in place here,” he says, “we were suddenly on everybody’s radar.”
A strong surge of momentum preceded this nascent explosion. Within Colorado, employment in biosciences and life sciences grew by more than 34% between 2010 and 2019, according to state statistics. Annual sales came to eclipse $12 billion, and Boulder seized a spot among JLL’s annual ranking of top life sciences metros.
With a unique convergence of public and private biomedical institutions, an influx of venture capital and a rising tide of investment in high-end, purpose-built lab facilities, the Denver-Boulder corridor is poised to build upon the highly educated workforce that has powered Colorado’s many technology-heavy industries. It hasn’t escaped notice that Boulder placed tops in the country — ahead of San Jose, California; Ann Arbor, Michigan; Washington, D.C.; and San Francisco — in Bloomberg’s most recent “Brain Concentration Index,” which measures business growth and the concentration of STEM workers.
“The resources, talent and support we have received in Colorado have helped and will continue to help us achieve our long-term growth objectives,” said Agilent President and CEO Mike McMullen in a statement in January announcing the company’s $725 million expansion in Frederick, which is to create 160 new jobs at an annual average wage of $100,000.
An ‘Amazing’ Talent Pool
Colorado’s enviable ecosystem of biosciences assets includes the nation’s most robust concentration of federally funded science and research labs, among them the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s infectious disease laboratory at Fort Collins, the agency’s only such facility outside of its headquarters in Atlanta. Colorado State University’s BioMARC center is a non-profit biologics and Contract Development & Manufacturing Organization (CDMO) that partners with pharmaceutical companies and the federal government. The Fitzsimons Life Sciences District in Aurora and the adjacent University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus are among the most ambitious medical developments in the nation.
“Colorado’s talent pool is amazing, with chemists, biochemists and engineers.”
— Jason Myers, CEO of Genapsys
Commercial giants within Colorado’s life sciences community include Medtronic, the Minnesota-based medical technology company, which is nearing completion of a 42-acre campus in Lafayette, just east of Boulder. The Lafayette campus will be the company’s second-largest site in the country, eventually to employ more than 1,000 people.
In May 2022, Terumo Blood and Cell Technologies held a grand opening for its $250 million manufacturing facility near the company’s headquarters south of Denver. The 170,000-sq.-ft. operation is to be staffed by 300 workers. Terumo, a maker of syringes, received FDA approval for a plasma collection device called the Rika Plasma Donation System that can collect plasma from donors in 35 minutes or less, less than half the time of traditional collection procedures. The new plant is to produce single-use collection sets.
“Terumo has been in Colorado for over 50 years,” said Chris Williams, senior vice president of global manufacturing at Terumo, in a news release. “This new state-of-the-art facility deepens our footprint and financial commitment to the state where we continue to offer quality jobs while making products that touch patients’ lives every second of every day.”
Other life sciences companies that expanded in Colorado in 2022 include McKesson, AGC Biologics, Bio-Nems and Genapsys, another Silicon Valley–based biotech company. Genapsys opened a second location near Denver with the promise of 240 new jobs paying an average of more than $110,000 a year.
“That whole stretch between Denver and Boulder has become a technology and biotech corridor,” said Genapsys CEO Jason Myers. “Colorado’s talent pool is amazing, with chemists, biochemists and engineers.”
If You Build It, They Will Come
Industry analysts believe a bounty of new development targeted to the exacting needs of life sciences companies could be the key to unlocking the potential of the Boulder-Denver corridor. According to the Boulder-based brokerage firm Dean Callan & Co., up to 3 million sq. ft. of biotech-related development is under construction along the corridor, not including projects not yet fully permitted.
The recent sale of Boulder’s 200-acre Flatiron Park to Blackstone’s BioMed Realty Trust for $625 million — a record in Colorado’s commercial real estate industry — is viewed as among the most conspicuous demonstrations of the region’s emergence as a biotech hub. BioMed plans to invest another $200 million in the property with an eye toward converting traditional office space to life sciences lab space.
Interest in the sector helped persuade Boulder’s Conscience Bay Company, a real estate management firm, to purchase a five-acre site near the city’s center with plans for a 112,000-sq.-ft., purpose-built life sciences complex, the Ridgeway Science and Tech Building.
“It is being designed to be a state-of-the-art facility that could house any type of company in the research and development world,” says Daniel Aizenman, Conscience Bay’s director of development and design. “It will be built to the standards of any building you could find in San Diego or Boston that could host a top-of-the-market life sciences company.”
Aizenman says Ridgeway Science and Tech will feature net-zero carbon and electric design, complete with solar panels and on-site geothermal energy. The facility, he says, is to incorporate prominent elements of environmentally friendly timber construction, with attention to landscaping and “how the user interacts with the building.”
Construction is slated to begin in 2024 with completion two years later. Aizenman believes Ridgeway could be a welcome location for a prominent life sciences company from out of state eager to leverage Colorado’s advantages.