Life sciences jobs pack 2-for-1 punch

February 24, 2014
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I still remember it vividly.

In February 2002, city, state, university and corporate leaders launched the Central Indiana Life Sciences Initiative.

The initiative was touted—at least by journalists, pundits and the local booster class—as the thing that would turn Indiana from its 20th century manufacturing roots to a 21st century, knowledge-based future.

That idea stuck with me. I was, at the time, less than three months into my first full-time reporting job, as a business reporter at The Indianapolis Star. So I was rather impressionable.

But it’s an idea that was always wrong.

Why? Because the math just doesn’t work.

In February 2002, Indiana boasted 587,000 manufacturing jobs, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The state had lost about 85,000 manufacturing jobs since the start of the 2000 recession. And it had another 100,000 still to lose.

Meanwhile, Indiana’s life sciences sector—even when jobs in life sciences warehousing, or biologistics, are added in to pad the numbers—boasts just 55,000 jobs. That’s the latest figure from BioCrossroads, the entity created by the Central Indiana Life Sciences Initiative.

So life sciences will never be the job creator it was hoped, rather naively, it would be.

Even today, life sciences company payrolls are roughly one-tenth the size of the manufacturing sector—and that’s even with some overlap between the two. (Major life sciences companies, like Eli Lilly and Co., Roche Diagnostics Corp., Cook Medical Inc. and Zimmer Holdings Inc. are, after all, manufacturers.)

I was certainly slow to realize that.

But not so slow to realize it have been city governments, legislators, the Indiana Economic Development Corp. and Elevate Ventures.

They have, over the years, given tax breaks to employers paying just-higher-than-average wages--in part because those companies produce more jobs than life sciences companies. Investments in startups, meanwhile, have in recent years gone to information technology companies, in part because such firms can produce jobs faster than life sciences companies.

For background, read my story from a year ago on the plan life sciences companies hatched to try to circumvent IEDC and Elevate Ventures. The situation may have improved a bit in the past year, but I haven’t heard anyone from the life sciences world cheering, either.

The major life sciences-themed initiative of the Pence administration, the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute, is focused at the large corporate and university level, not at startups directly. BioCrossroads’ latest initiative is focused on agriculture, not on the traditional areas of life sciences—medical devices, health care services and biotech.

But the latest data from BioCrossroads include, again, a key statistic state leaders should remember: life sciences jobs pay great wages.

In 2012, life sciences jobs paid $89,056 on average, according to BioCrossroads’ data, which was compiled by the Indiana Business Research Center. That compares with an average annual wage of $41,357 in Indiana’s entire private sector.

Economic development is really about two things: jobs and incomes. The more jobs there are, the more incomes Hoosiers collectively receive. But higher-paying jobs also boost collective income.

So while life sciences companies don’t rack up huge jobs numbers, their relatively high pay means that for every job they do create, it’s worth two in the rest of the private sector.

With IEDC and local governments doling out tax incentives each year to attract jobs with average wages of about $47,000, it’s at least worth considering whether that money might be invested in other ways to boost higher-paying sectors.

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  • Worth two?
    I don't really think you can say a high-paying job is worth two lower paying jobs in terms of the very real effect on families. That's one family that benefits from a steady paycheck instead of two. Plenty of families would be pretty happy with a job paying half of one of those $89K jobs.
  • One or Two?
    While the larger salary does not support 2 workers/families, it seems that the higher salary does benefit more people. Greater income almost certainly translates into more spending and investing in the local economy as the money circulates to grocery stores, retail goods, doctors, dentists, banks, etc.

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  1. I am not by any means judging whether this is a good or bad project. It's pretty simple, the developers are not showing a hardship or need for this economic incentive. It is a vacant field, the easiest for development, and the developer already has the money to invest $26 million for construction. If they can afford that, they can afford to pay property taxes just like the rest of the residents do. As well, an average of $15/hour is an absolute joke in terms of economic development. Get in high paying jobs and maybe there's a different story. But that's the problem with this ask, it is speculative and users are just not known.

  2. Shouldn't this be a museum

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  4. Marijuana is the safest natural drug grown. Addiction is never physical. Marijuana health benefits are far more reaching then synthesized drugs. Abbott, Lilly, and the thousands of others create poisons and label them as medication. There is no current manufactured drug on the market that does not pose immediate and long term threat to the human anatomy. Certainly the potency of marijuana has increased by hybrids and growing techniques. However, Alcohol has been proven to destroy more families, relationships, cause more deaths and injuries in addition to the damage done to the body. Many confrontations such as domestic violence and other crimes can be attributed to alcohol. The criminal activities and injustices that surround marijuana exists because it is illegal in much of the world. If legalized throughout the world you would see a dramatic decrease in such activities and a savings to many countries for legal prosecutions, incarceration etc in regards to marijuana. It indeed can create wealth for the government by collecting taxes, creating jobs, etc.... I personally do not partake. I do hope it is legalized throughout the world.

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